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Type 2 diabetes in teens: Out of control?

One-third of children and teens in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese, putting them at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

A recent study found that nearly half of newly-diagnosed teens failed to control their blood sugar, and one in five had serious complications. Keep reading for more information about what the leaders of this study learned — and how we can help.

What is Type 2 diabetes?


Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease, and even if your child is feeling fine in the early stages of diagnosis, management of the disease must be taken seriously. If not properly controlled, the condition can adversely affect the kidneys, eyes, heart and nerves. While long-term complications develop gradually, once they develop they can be quite disabling or potentially life-threatening. Teaching teens to properly control their blood sugar levels greatly increases their chances of avoiding serious complications.

According to information provided by the Mayo Clinic, Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. Factors such as excess weight, inactivity and heredity play an important role in determining who is affected by Type 2 diabetes and who isn’t. Type 2 diabetes is not the same disease as Type 1/juvenile diabetes, even when it occurs in children.

Diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes in children is on the rise, causing concern amongst physicians. Managing this condition requires a high level of parental involvement and dedication on the part of the diabetic teen. The rise in teen obesity in recent years has certainly contributed to the increase in childhood cases of Type 2 diabetes — rarely seen in children or teens in the past. Between 1999 and 2008, the percentage of teens diagnosed with either pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes increased from 9 percent to a whopping 23 percent.

Check out these diet tips to prevent Type 2 diabetes >>

Why is it harder with teens?

We spoke with Scott Isaacs, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., a board-certified endocrinologist. Dr. Isaacs is the medical director for Atlanta Endocrine Associates and author of the new book Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight by Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism (third edition).

Dr. Isaacs says the problem with most teenagers is that they don’t want to listen to what their parents say — an overweight teen diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes is not any different. “They’re going to eat what they want, and the major source of calories in teenagers is going to be sweetened beverages, sodas, snack foods — all the things that are the worst thing for diabetes,” he says.

How can parents help?

If your teen has been diagnosed, the most important thing you can do is to help them make better food choices going forward. Many of these teens have had unhealthy eating habits for quite some time, and will resist change. “Taking a restrictive, punitive-type approach to eating never works, and it often backfires,” says Dr. Isaacs. Instead, he recommends taking the more positive approach of telling teens what they can add to their diets. Adding in fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods helps people feel full sooner and takes the place of other unhealthy foods.

Learn about encouraging teens to eat healthy >>

Dr. Melissa Arca, pediatrician, takes the same approach. “With an alarming increase in teens being diagnosed with pre-diabetes (up from 9 percent to 23 percent of U.S. teens) and then Type 2 diabetes, it’s absolutely critical that parents and pediatricians work together to support and encourage a healthy lifestyle among our adolescents,” she says. “The most important thing I like to stress to parents is that this is absolutely a ‘family’ affair. We cannot expect our teens to eat a well-balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and water and get 60 minutes of daily activity if we aren’t willing to accept and carry out these lifestyle changes ourselves as parents.” Dr. Arca encourages parents to think of their teen’s diabetes as something completely manageable and by the whole family.

Help your teen learn to control his blood sugar by involving the whole family. His life depends on it.

More teen health issues

Helping teens take responsibility for their health
Understanding your teen’s nutritional needs
Sleep and your older child

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