Diabetes used to be a concern primarily for the older population. But now, the reality is that kids are at a high risk of developing the disease, too. And even more alarming is that there’s currently no one pill that’s been proven to treat the condition.
More kids have Type 2 diabetes now than ever before. And the main cause of this is childhood obesity – it’s all linked together. In fact, according to a recent article from NPR, more than half of new cases of diabetes are now Type 2 compared with just 3 percent a few decades back.
Type 2 diabetes, once called adult-onset and non-insulin dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way your body metabolizes glucose and sugar. With the condition, the body still produces insulin – a hormone that regulates the absorption of sugar into our cells – but the body has either become resistant to its effects or cannot produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level. Left uncontrolled, the consequences of type 2 diabetes can be fatal.
Treating diabetes in children specifically is becoming a growing issue, especially since recent research has shown medications can only do so much.
In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, only half of 700 children between the ages of 7-10 who had type 2 diabetes were able to control their blood sugar levels adequately through the use of the generic drug Metformin alone, which is the only diabetes medication currently approved for kids.
Avandia, another diabetes drug, showed a bit more hope with 60 percent of children showing blood sugar relation. However, it’s rarely been prescribed after a study in 2004 showed it put patients at higher risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.
Perhaps an even bigger surprise was that the study showed even when lifestyle changes were combined with metformin, it didn’t seem to improve the condition. Through this and other studies, metformin has been shown to be far less effective in children as it is in adults. And according to David B. Allen – a pediatrician at the Unviersity of Wisconsin medical school – the lifestyle interventions yielded poor results.
The study’s findings suggest that within the first few years of a child being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, they will need to be on multiple medications or insulin to stabilize their condition, and that one medication and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control it.
Allen blamed the problem on the ‘obesogenic world’ children are growing up in today that encourages poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles.
“Fifty years ago,” he wrote, “children did not avoid obesity by making healthy choices; they simply lived in an environment that provided fewer calories and included more physical activity for all.”
Allen suggests the solution of the epidemic lies in public policy, specifically with incentives to make healthful foods more available and attractive, and the construction of environments that require more physical movement.