Keeping Kids Healthy: The Dangers of Early Onset Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes used to be a condition that developed in middle or late adulthood. Now, it is increasingly diagnosed in teens, young adults (under 25), and some children.

What is especially unsettling about this trend is that early onset type 2 diabetes symptoms are often more aggressive than those that develop later-in-life, leaving some young people with indications of kidney and heart disease before their 30th birthday.

TODAY's Findings

The speedy progression of diabetes in young people was determined through TODAY, a study that followed - for nearly four years - the health status of 699 overweight or obese youth, ages 10 to 17, diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The TODAY* study was designed to test diabetes treatment options for young people—which turned out to be generally unsuccessful.

Later papers released from the TODAY research revealed the potentially aggressive nature of early onset type 2:

  • Over the study’s course, one third of the youths developed hypertension (high blood pressure), 14 percent had indications of retinopathy, and the number of participants with early signs of kidney disease tripled.
  • Forty-five percent of participants had LDL cholesterol levels above 100 mg/dL (normal is 0-99), and the percentage of those with LDL cholesterol above 130 mg/dL more than doubled, from 4.5 percent to 10.7 percent.
  • At the study’s start 6.3 percent of the youths had microalbuminuria (albumin in the urine), an early indicator of kidney disease. Four years later, 16.6 percent of them had this warning sign.
  • Overall, weight loss was disappointing using drug and lifestyle counseling interventions, and any progress made was not sustained beyond two years.

The take away from this study is clear: current diabetes treatment is generally inadequate to control the sometimes rapid progression of type 2 diabetes in youth. The time to intervene is before symptoms occur.

The Time Is Now

We can intervene by setting a healthy example for our kids and grandkids, and we know how to do this:

  • Reduce or eliminate sugary beverages.
  • Replace more processed (packaged) food products with whole, fresh foods.
  • Eat healthy snacks - cut-up veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds - most of the time.
  • Cut back on TV or computer screen hours and enjoy an active lifestyle.

Though any child or teen could develop early onset type 2 diabetes, some are at higher risk than others. Those who are overweight, inactive, have family histories of type 2, were born to moms with diabetes during pregnancy, or members of certain ethnic groups (African, Asian, South Asian, Hispanic, and Aboriginal) are more susceptible.

We need to look out for our kid’s health now so they can focus on education, jobs, and relationships in their young adult years, instead of dealing with avoidable chronic health issues.

Sources: Medscape; Canadian Diabetes Assoc.
Photo credit: hepingting

* TODAY was a randomized clinical trial comparing the effectiveness and safety of three interventions for the treatment of adolescent type 2 diabetes. It was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

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