4 Steps to prevent diabetes in kids

Mar 12, 2010 at 1:30 p.m. ET

Diabetes is on the rise. Moreover, there is an increasing number of children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes - which is often considered adult-onset. The good news? Parents can lower their children's risk and even prevent diabetes from happening. Here's how.

Mom and son exercising

According to the CDC, every year 13,000 children are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. More disturbing, the CDC reports that there are more and more children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes each year -- the type of diabetes that normally impacts those over age 40. The problem? Obesity is putting kids at risk for this disease. So, what can parents do to reduce their children's risk?

Step one: Prevention starts at home

Experts agree that diabetes prevention starts at home. "You can do everything about your child's weight. You can control what your child eats," says Doug Varrieur, author of the Fat to Skinny series of books. One key step? Parents need to explain to their kids the problem. "Educate the child so the child understands what is happening within [their] body," says Varrieur ... his advice? Break it into simple terms that they will understand, something that his books do.
What else?

Step 2: Get kids involved in choosing healthy foods

The first step in fighting off diabetes is taking preventative measures with eating, says registered dietitian Jennifer Haas of Nova Medical & Urgent Care Center, Inc. in Ashburn, VA. "It really comes down to what the parents are feeding them," says Haas. "Simple sugars are really the culprit." That includes things like soda, cookies, chips and processed baked goods.

Making healthier alternatives available is simply a must for families trying to cut their child's risk of diabetes. Varrieur says that families need to rally behind their kids and overhaul the kitchen contents. "Change what's in the house. ... Buy products that are going to satisfy your child's desire for flavor," says Varrieur.

How do you make the change from unhealthy foods to healthy ones? Haas suggests that parents ease a transition from unhealthy foods to healthier ones by getting kids involved in the selection process. "Ease the transition – here we're going to try new foods," says Haas.

What else? Make sure that meals include protein, not just carbs. For breakfast, Haas says that any nut butter on whole grain toast can be a great fast option. Eggs are also good for protein. "The parents are the ones who go to the store. The parents really are the ones who are buying the food," says Haas. She says that it's up to parents to set boundaries and control what their kids eat.

Get more tips here on brain-boosting, energy-packed foods kids will love.

step 3: Mirror the right behaviors

Do as I say, not as I do is a philosophy that simply doesn't work -- and it especially fails when it comes to eating and living habits. The whole family needs to be involved in healthy living - whether it's for diabetes prevention or just being healthier. "It's everything. It really is essential. If you make it about one of the kids … it's already setting up the mindset that there is a right and a wrong rather than this moderation view," says Haas. "It's really important that everyone is on board."

What happens if the whole family isn't on board? "They [the child] are going to feel somewhat odd," says Varrieur. The good news is that healthier eating habits are good for everyone. "I think it's a family affair. ... Even a thin family who has a fat child can benefit from a lower sugar lifestyle."

Are you making your child fat? Find out here.

step 4: The exercise factor

Exercise, exercise, exercise. How important is it really? Haas says that exercise is an essential part of diabetes prevent for kids and adults. "Exercise, especially after meals really helps in keeping blood sugar levels normal," says Haas, who adds that exercise as a life habit is good to start early.

Get tips here on getting your kids to be more active.

Can it be reversed?

What if your child has already developed Type 2 diabetes? Can anything be done? Haas says that the ability to reverse diabetes is a controversial subject. "It really can be diet controlled, so in that regard it can be reversed," says Haas.

So, what dietary steps can you take? Well, first speak with a medical professional. "If one of your goals is I don't want to be on medication, that's where a dietician comes into play because food really can be medicine," says Haas.

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