As obesity trends continue to persist, society is getting used to seeing more and more children and adults who are larger in size. That can become a fulcrum for fat acceptance and less alarmism regarding obesity and its short-term and long-term health implications. If you think childhood obesity isn’t dire, this latest research may wake you up to the serious nature of the disease. The study, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, indicates a significant and heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have childhood obesity. It’s time for parents, pediatricians, and public health officials to face this burgeoning health crisis and spring into action.
The study’s objective was to look at the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in a large sample of children and young adults in the United Kingdom. The subjects’ information was collected from 375 general practices in the United Kingdom that contribute to an ongoing database, the U.K. Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). Information including BMI was collected from over 369,360 participants, ages two to 15 during the years 1994 to 2013. Records identified and tracked a diagnosis of diabetes type 1 or 2 until participants hit age 25.
The general trend noted by researchers was an increasing rate of both types of diabetes. Specifically, a higher BMI was linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, with a fourfold increase in children who had a BMI that qualified a diagnosis of obesity. Based on the study’s findings, if a child has a diagnosis of obesity, they have a fourfold greater risk of being diagnosed with diabetes (type 2) compared to a child with a normal BMI. In the United Kingdom in 2013, there were 33 cases of type 2 diabetes per 100,000 children.
These findings are very relevant to children and young adults in the United States, since our obesity trends are quite similar to the trajectories found in the United Kingdom. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2014 looked at the prevalence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes among U.S. teens, from 2001 to 2009. The researchers found that rates of diabetes escalated in tandem with the childhood obesity trend.
A white paper released by the nonprofit group FAIR Health in January 2017 tabulated data from more than 21 billion privately billed health insurance claims for patients who ranged in age from birth to 22 years old, found an increase of 109 percent for the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, and an increase of 109 percent for the diagnosis of prediabetes. These higher rates of prediabetes and diabetes directly paced with increasing rates of obesity in this young population. The largest jump in rates of prediabetes and diabetes was noted in the 19- to 22-year-old age group (154 percent). The smallest jump was among 3- to 5-year-olds (45 percent).
There has been discussion among experts with regards to whether rates of childhood obesity are leveling off or even declining. Some researchers contend that there is clear evidence that rates of childhood obesity are still climbing. Even if rates are stabilizing or falling slightly, the current rates of childhood obesity are still way too high, and based on this new data, pushing the number of cases of type 2 diabetes. It’s important to remember that type 2 diabetes used to be called adult onset diabetes because it typically appeared later in life and was associated with persistent weight gain and poor lifestyle.
Once prediabetes develops into type 2 diabetes in a child or teen, they are faced with incredible challenges. They will certainly have to follow a strict diet, count carbohydrates, possibly test their blood sugar several times a day, and manage medications. They will be at higher risk of developing heart disease, and it will likely begin at a much younger age. So there should be tremendous effort on the part of parents and the healthcare community to prevent obesity. That effort requires the family unit to commit to a healthier diet and exercise, better sleep habits and stress management. Connecting with a dietician and a support group can be quite helpful, especially when kids are experiencing bullying because of their weight. Intercepting childhood obesity before it develops should be a major public health priority. If there’s a family history of obesity, or adult onset obesity, measures should be taken before infancy to prevent the disease in the new generation.
The stakes here are high. The more time one has diabetes, the higher the risk of developing cumulative damage to blood vessels, the kidneys, and the heart. Eyes are especially vulnerable to diabetes, and if blood sugar levels are poorly managed, circulation in the lower extremities can become compromised. This can raise the risk of foot ulcers and also gangrene. Childhood obesity is a “ring the alarm” worthy disease. Let’s take it seriously.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”