By Dr. Janet Brill
Is it just me or do I live on another planet? Are there no other mothers out there that find the notion that American children are developing a life-threatening (and medically untreatable) disease at a rapid pace, a nightmare grounded in reality?
It’s like the elephant in the room—childhood obesity is rampant, as is the twin epidemic of type 2 diabetes surfacing in our kids. Yes, Michelle Obama has done a marvelous job of calling attention to the dilemma, and yet change is taking place at a snail’s pace. The recent backlash against Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of large soda containers is a perfect example. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg—well done! Unfortunately, the food industry’s power to overfeed our kids is not a problem that can be easily overcome.
Let’s take a quick look at the facts: Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents is a sizable and growing problem among U.S. children and adolescents. Why are our kids coming down with this disease?
A “diabesity” sedentary, calorie-laden environment puts youth at great risk for developing this disease. Here are the primary risk factors: Lower socioeconomic status, a nutrient-poor diet, excessive soda consumption and a sedentary lifestyle including excessive “screentime,” meaning television watching, computer usage and hand held electronics—all sedentary activities.
Once unknown in children, “adult onset” type of diabetes is now more and more commonly diagnosed in our youth. This is a highly worrisome phenomenon as type 2 diabetes is a far more aggressive disease in youth compared to middle-aged people. New research clarifies that medicines are not very effective.
A recent study has shown that the majority of youth with type 2 diabetes will require more than one prescription medication to control the disease and will most likely require insulin therapy within a few years of diagnosis. Metformin (known more commonly as Glucophage), the oral drug typically used to successfully control type 2 diabetes in adults, was ineffective in over half of the youth studied. Adding in a second drug, Avandia, decreased the failure rate to about 40 percent.
These alarming statistics illustrate the fact that this killer disease is not very treatable when diagnosed in our young, painting a bleak picture of our children’s’ future as medicine will have failed to stave off a shortened lifetime of suffering from a severe illness.
It is harder to treat, hence the ghastly life-threatening medical complications of this disease, as well as a poor quality of life will surface at a younger age.
The medical complications include: heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, amputations and a life-shortening effect estimated at approximately 13 years.
So that’s the problem, now what’s the solution? What action is required by mothers, fathers, and our entire society?
Here are my admittedly aggressive (but sorely needed) suggestions as both a mom and a health professional to both help treat the condition as well as PREVENT another generation of children from a lifetime of suffering: