By Kathleen Cascino

Type I diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is on the increase in children. Type I diabetes is defined as a metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, because the body does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The reason for this increase is unknown. Is the increase related to the environment, genetics, a virus, or is it a preventable disease?


A new survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control on 3,383 U.S. teenagers between the ages of 12 to 19 found that children with diabetes or pre-diabetes has increased from nine percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2008. In 2010, 215,000, or 0.26% of all people in this age group have diabetes. About one in every 400 children and adolescents has diabetes.


Teenagers diagnosed with diabetes are more likely to drop out of high school and either forgo college or fail to graduate. They lag behind their high school classmates in employment by 8 to 11 percentage points and are likely to earn less than those without diabetes. In addition, children with diabetes are 8 to 13 percentage points more likely to receive aid from social programs.


Diabetes is a disease that has many associated complications. These complications can include heart disease, stroke, nerve disease, amputations, kidney disease and blindness. Because of the early onset of the disease in a child’s life, and with individuals living longer, children with Type I diabetes potentially have many more years to suffer from these serious medical complications associated with this disease. As expected, there are medical costs associated with the treatment of diabetes and its complications. These costs have been estimated to be more than double those without diabetes.


Some contributing factors to increased medical costs include children growing faster than normal; larger children which causes body organs to work overtime; a lack of exercise and spending too much time indoors thereby not getting enough sun exposure; the environment is so clean (germ phobia) that there is a lack of exposure to certain germs and parasites that may actually be harmful in some ways including increasing the susceptibility to diseases like diabetes; drinking too much cow’s milk; drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages; and the consumption of fatty and fried foods.


The first line of defense for parents to prevent or delay the complications of diabetes in their children is to work together and become actively involved in the care, treatment and management of their child’s disease which also requires a change for the entire family. This can be done by making lifestyle changes that include eating a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products, low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans. Substitute sugar-sweetened beverages for water. Children should participate in physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day. The suggested changes can help treat the symptoms and control diabetes. However, diet and exercise alone cannot prevent diabetes from developing.


As the impact of this epidemic disease continues to increase, children, parents and their physician need to work together to develop a management plan that is easily incorporated into the child’s lifestyle. Until there is a turnaround in behaviors, diabetes will continue to accelerate to a point of seriously burdening the healthcare budget of the United States.

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