In the Land of Primary Care there are a few medical diagnoses that really scare people like diabetes, and rightfully so. Most people may not realize it is an inflammatory disease caused by poor blood sugar management. (If you haven’t heard the latest buzzword in medicine called ‘inflammation,’ you better understand it soon.) So, diabetes carries with it a whole host of complications that impact a person’s quality of life. People with diabetes have 4x the risk of having a stroke, vision impairment and vision loss, kidney failure, nerve damage, 4x the risk of dying from heart disease.
Words cannot describe the feeling in the room when I have to tell a patient that their next step is injectable insulin. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of the needles; maybe they understand the gravity of having insulin-dependent diabetes. Fortunately, it’s rare at my practice, largely because we catch these issues early and also because we spend so much time educating and coaching patients on making powerful lifestyle changes to avoid these types of medications. Yes, you heard me right, you can TREAT diabetes with targeted lifestyle choices with research showing that lifestyle is as effective, if not more effective, than most medications for diabetes.
With that in mind, what if I told you that I could predict your child’s chances of developing diabetes? In a study where 17 years’ worth of data were reviewed beginning in childhood through adulthood, researchers looked at participants’ blood sugar levels, insulin levels, weight and cholesterol. Here’s what they found. ”Children that had abnormal blood sugar and insulin had a significant likelihood to go on to develop diabetes as adults” – in my world, that translates to “they’re going to become diabetic if they keep up the same ‘bad habits’.” The research on blood sugar and insulin levels were so strong that it didn’t even matter how much the participants weighed or if their cholesterol was high. This is a major shift in focus, because up until now, we thought it was just the overweight and obese kids who had the higher risk of diabetes.
Here’s the scary part……It’s not standard of practice to test your child’s blood sugar, insulin or cholesterol, so we honestly have no idea how our kids are doing. But when they did analyze the date of those who were tested, it showed that weight was not the main predictor of diabetes. What does that mean for the medical community? It means that in addition to our overweight kids (who have other significant risks for chronic disease) we have to be concerned about ALL of our kids, specifically, those children who eat starchy or sugary foods on a regular basis. We just assume that because they’re kids, they are better able to clean up the starchy/sugary snacks they eat all day long. It just isn’t so! We, as parents, need to deal with the compelling evidence (and common sense) of our body that tells us that all of this high sugar, processed and artificial food we are feeding our growing children will not create the healthiest adult in the future. What parent wants to knowingly pass the health burden of chronic diseases like diabetes off to their children?
Right now, 8.3% of the US population has diabetes and another 25% are living in the early stages known as ‘pre-diabetes’. Recent research predicts that 50% of the US population will be affected by diabetes by the year 2020. Think about that for a minute. That’s HALF of us! The year 2020 is right around the time for the kids of today to become the diabetic adults of tomorrow. Please don’t let your children become THAT statistic.
Simple things you can focus on include limiting refined sugar or processed foods (yes, even organic sugar is sugar). Skip the fruit juice and opt for water or fresh fruit instead. If you’re serving starches with dinner (rice, potatoes, corn, etc), make just enough so that everyone has a small helping (1/2 cup). Remember this….Type II diabetes is a disease of LIFESTYLE, let’s do our best to mold and mentor the lifestyle of our children and lower that scary health probability.