Childhood diabetes used to refer mainly to type 1 diabetes–the kind caused by the body’s failure to produce enough insulin to process glucose. But type 2 diabetes–often called “lifestyle diabetes,” because it’s caused by the presence of fat molecules that block the body’s ability to process sugar–has historically been a problem for adults. (In fact, until recently, it was rare to see type 2 diabetes symptoms in anyone under 40). But thanks to poor nutrition and limited physical activity (and yes, childhood obesity) it’s become so common in young kids that the American Academy of Pediatrics just released their first Diabetes Guidelines for Children to help doctors and parents identify childhood diabetes symptoms and learn how to treat type 2 diabetes in kids.
Dr. Janet Silverstein, who co-wrote the new guidelines targeted at kids aged 10 to 18, explained why they’re necessary:
Many pediatricians were never trained in managing Type 2 because it just wasn’t a disease we used to see. It was a disease of adulthood. But as we’re seeing more obesity in kids, we’re seeing adult diseases in childhood.
The biggest recommendations she and her colleagues put forth in their new guidelines are to screen all children who are obese, and then find out what kind of diabetes they might have. Although type one diabetes symptoms and type 2 diabetes symptoms may be very similar in kids, the recommended treatment isn’t: Type 1 diabetes almost always includes administering insulin shots, whereas treating type 2 diabetes in kids usually involves medication to test insulin resistance, and the recommendation that kids exercise more and adjust their diets.
If the fact that childhood obesity and childhood diabetes are becoming epidemic doesn’t disturb you, just tune into the current season of The Biggest Loser. Their approach to teaching viewers about childhood obesity isn’t perfect, but the scene in which “contestant” Lindsay–who’s all of 13 years old–is told by her doctor that she’s developed pre-diabetes puts a heart-wrenching face on the problem of young kids and teens being diagnosed with such a life-long and life-threatening disease.
But even if our need to publish diabetes guidelines for children heralds fairly depressing news, it’s not all doom and gloom: The doctors who collaborated on the guidelines emphasize that many type 2 diabetes symptoms can be reversed and prevented through lifestyle change if caught early enough, especially in kids. And building awareness (even if it comes through slightly flawed shows about weight loss and obesity) is only a good thing.