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Your child's diabetic clock is ticking...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Liberal parenting, junk food craze and sedentary lifestyle - all have contributed to the rapid increase in the incidence of diabetes in children. It is time we took action, says Annam Suresh.

It is time address a serious issue -- the alarming rate at which Type 2 Diabetes is being found among younger persons. It is time to pledge a healthy future to our children who could be victims of a lifestyle and genes that we bequeath to them.

Type 2 diabetes, which we once found only in older people has been steadily creeping lower down the age graph and today we find even teenagers with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is no longer a disease of the retired. It is visiting younger Indians.

Most recently-diagnosed Indian diabetics belong to the productive age group, with grave repercussions to the family, society and economy. This is probably because, for the individual, the country and the country, unhealthy lifestyles are unaffordable. Liberal parenting, nuclear double-income families, lack of time and resources to monitor children's lifestyle all contribute to making our children sitting ducks for this silent killer much sooner.

A report of a study by scientists from Yale University School of Medicine published in the The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that many obese children have impaired glucose tolerance, which, in adults is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Obese children were diagnosed with diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance, which is a pre-diabetic condition. Diabetes is only one manifestation of the insulin resistance syndrome. If fact, it is often a comparatively late event, relative to the other known consequences such as morbid obesity, orthopedic problems, depression, and obstructive sleep apnea.

Urban affluent children consume huge quantities of aerated soft drinks, sugar and fat laden junk food, have little time for physical exercise and practically all their leisure activities are sedentary - watching television or playing computer and video games.

In addition, it is more common to find both parents working and children left without intelligent supervision among the educated urban families. A hectic lifestyle forces most families to resort to convenience foods or eating out - the large number of fast food joints are mostly patronised by children and families on the run.

Poorer and rural children eat traditional food consisting of lots of vegetables and simple fruits, drink more water as opposed to soft drinks, have to walk or cycle to school and help out in domestic chores. Also television, if available, is a family or community activity (few poor or rural children can boast of a separate set) and video games are almost unheard of.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the typical US child spends more than 38 hours a week using electronic media outside of school - the statistics for urban Indian children is likely to be worse given that outdoor activities, except among a passionate few, are rapidly decreasing.

Yet another cultural contribution is food. It is at the centre of most cultural and religious celebrations. Treats and rewards are often food-based. A 'chubby' baby is still considered 'cute and cuddly'. It is not unusual for parents to boast of how 'healthy' (read fat) Bunty was as a child.

Physical activity in children is on a steady decline. More children are living in single-parent or dual-working-parent households than ever before, resulting in an increase in "latchkey" children. It is not unusual to find children with their own television sets. After-school hours are spent lolling and snacking in front of the television for hours together.

Prevention is crucial

This has to be done on a two-pronged front - altering food habits and increasing physical activity. Exercise and nutrition are the twin keys to preventing Type 2 diabetes. Researchers find that even those at high risk for this disease can prevent or delay its onset with a half hour of exercise five days a week, and by losing a small percentage -- 5 to 7 per cent -- of their body weight. A study by Michael Goran of the University of Southern California found that overweight boys who lifted weights twice a week for four months lowered lowered their insulin resistance and hence their risk for Type 2 diabetes even without losing weight.

For children, that means spending more time in active play. It also means learning to make healthier choices when it comes to food.

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