By Wyndolyn C. Bell, M.D., FAAP, UnitedHealthcare National Accounts, vice president of Health Care Strategies
"Give me some sugar."
This is how we're often greeted at family gatherings as older relatives embrace us and ask for a kiss. Unfortunately, "sugar" is also a term some used for diabetes. In the past, "having sugar" or "having a touch of sugar" was a condition that affected adults, but today an increasing number of children, including African American children, are at risk.
November is National Diabetes Month, a good reminder to raise awareness about diabetes and the threat it poses to our next generation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes) has increased among children and adolescents in the last two decades. Today, more than 180,000 persons under the age of 20 in the United States have type 2 or type 1 diabetes.
There are serious implications to this dangerous trend. The CDC reports that diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the country. It can lead to serious complications such as blindness, heart and blood vessel disease, foot and leg amputations, and kidney damage which may require dialysis.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes affects the body's ability to use blood sugar for energy. There are two primary forms that affect children: type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body's immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, which make the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes usually begins as a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly. As the body's need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce it.
The first step in controlling diabetes is early diagnosis and knowing the risk factors. Children who develop type 2 diabetes are typically overweight or obese, and have a family history of the disease, according to the CDC. Most are American Indian, African American, Asian, or Hispanic/Latino.
Many people with type 2 diabetes have no obvious symptoms or may experience some of the same symptoms as type 1 such as increased thirst and hunger (especially after eating), frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, dry mouth, blurred vision, headaches, frequent or recurring infections and cuts that are slow to heal.
To confirm if a patient has type 2 diabetes, a doctor will order a fasting plasma glucose tolerance test.
We Can Make a Difference
High-calorie, high-fat foods and lack of physical activity can literally tip the scales and push an at-risk individual into diabetes earlier in life. Consistent exercise and a healthy diet can fight obesity and may lower the risk of diabetes. As adults, we must teach children at an early age about the importance of proper nutrition and exercise, and also practice these healthy habits ourselves.
That's the message behind First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign â€“ to fight childhood obesity and improve the health of our youth. UnitedHealthcare supports Mrs. Obama's efforts to encourage more physical activity for children and healthier foods in school and at home.
For more information and health tips specifically for African-American parents about diabetes, pre-diabetes and obesity, visit UnitedHealthcare's Generations of WellnessÂ® website, www.uhcgenerations.com. And go to www.Letsmove.gov for information, tips and strategies to help kids grow up healthy.