In recent decades, there has been a dramatic increase in childhood type 2 diabetes. The culprit: childhood obesity. About 16 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are clinically overweight or obese, predisposing these young people to diabetes, with all its harmful effects.
If your child is overweight, you can make the difference. Start by changing your family’s lifestyle to include more fitness activities, such as walking, biking or swimming, and adopt a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and very few fats or sugars.
This guidance is especially important for Hispanic and black families, who are at higher risk of developing diabetes than other populations. According to the American Diabetes Association, children of any background who have a close family member with diabetes are also more likely to become diabetic.
If you are worried about your child’s health, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or primary care provider.Your doctor can provide nutritional suggestions, recommend weight maintenance techniques and suggest an exercise program, while also monitoring your child’s blood glucose (sugar) levels through periodic tests.
While children and adults can lead a full and healthy life with diabetes, it’s much better to take a proactive approach and prevent this disorder from becoming a chronic medical problem.
6 tips to help overweight children
If you have an overweight child at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, it’s time for your whole family to make some changes. Here are six tips from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:
- Be supportive. Talk about weight management in a way that provides support,encouragement and acceptance. Children’s self-confidence is often based on what they hear from parents or siblings, so don’t try to shame your child into losing weight.
- Be a team player. Rather than making your child uncomfortable with special meals or a personalized diet plan, choose healthier foods for the entire family.
- Exercise. Try to develop a fitness program the entire family will enjoy.
- Be a role model. Make sure that you maintain a healthy weight. Let your child see you eating fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly.
- Be sensitive. Overweight children may not be comfortable wearing a bathing suit or participating in group exercise activities. Choose activities your children enjoys and are easy to manage.
- Be instructive. When you’re planning meals, let your child help prepare the menu, shop for foods and cook the meal. Children who are involved with foods in a positive way can learn to make healthy nutrition decisions that will last a lifetime.
Dr. Luis Gonzalez-Mendoza is the director of the Division of Endocrinology at Nicklaus Children's Hospital and the president of the Nicklaus Children's Hospital, Medical Staff.