Preventing Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which insulin, a hormone that is made in the pancreas and controls blood sugar, becomes ineffective as the liver and muscles become resistant to it. Previously known as adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in more children and adolescents than ever before.

Researchers suspect that an increase in the number of children and teens who are overweight or obese is the main reason for this growing health threat. Evidence suggests that excess belly fat produces proteins and other substances that cause inflammation and make the liver and muscles resistant to insulin.

Children and adults who have a body mass index, or BMI, above the 85th percentile—meaning 85 percent of people who are the same height weigh less—are considered overweight. An adult or child who has a BMI above the 94th percentile is obese.

Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone are trying to reverse this trend by offering strategies and programs to help children and adolescents lose weight and exercise more. Adopting healthy eating and exercise habits and participating in supervised weight loss, especially during childhood or adolescence, can dramatically reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

If your child has already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, these strategies may be enough to keep the condition under control. They can also make treatment more effective and prevent long-term complications, such as heart and kidney disease, eye problems, and nerve damage.

Changing eating and exercise habits can require some adjustment. NYU Langone registered dietitians partner with families to create a diet and exercise plan that can help your child achieve and maintain his or her personal weight loss and fitness goals.

These strategies may be more effective—and more fun—when everyone in the family gets involved.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Serve fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains at meals. Limit your family’s intake of fried and processed foods, which contain saturated and trans fats. Choose foods that contain healthy fats, such as nuts and avocados.

Provide water instead of sugary drinks like soda and juice. Give your family healthy snack options, such as carrot sticks, grapes, apple slices, nuts, and plain popcorn. Reduce portion sizes and avoid fast food.

To make healthy eating more fun, try the following: Take a cooking class with your child that demonstrates how to make healthy food from scratch. Organize healthy potluck suppers with your child’s friends and families. Bring your child to a local farmers’ market to find produce that’s in season. Ask your child to help you plan a weekly menu that suits everyone’s tastes.

Get Moving

Physical activity can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Increasing physical activity and muscle mass improves metabolism—the body’s ability to convert nutrients into energy—keeping blood levels of fat and glucose in check.

Activities that increase the heart rate, such as riding a bicycle, swimming, walking fast, or running, can help your child lose weight by burning excess calories.

Exercises that build muscle mass, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and team sports, can help the body use glucose, a simple sugar formed in the breakdown of food, more efficiently, which can lower blood sugar.

Make sure that your child is active for an hour each day, whether he or she participates in a sport, takes a walk, rides a bike, or plays at the playground. Limit the amount of time your child spends sitting in front of a television or computer screen. Encourage your child to take the stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible.

Physical therapists at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation can recommend an exercise program designed to fit your child’s schedule and interests.

Resources for Type 2 Diabetes in Children
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