Type 2 diabetes rising in children

Children\'s National Medical Center dietitian Erica Davies leads a class for families coping with diabetes. (Paula Wolfson/WTOP Photo)

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – The nation’s childhood obesity epidemic is putting kids at increased risk for a very adult disease: Type 2 diabetes, usually seen in severely overweight adults.

Dr. Fran Cogen, head of the diabetes program at Children’s National Medical Center, says the number of young Type 2 patients is going up each year. While a child can have a genetic predisposition to the disease, lifestyle plays a crucial role.

She says the first cases in children followed the explosion of fast-food outlets in America.

Cogen says those most likely to come down with Type 2 are youngsters with poor diets heavy in sugar and fat, who get little, if any, exercise.

At Children’s, the overwhelming majority of diabetes patients, 89 percent, have what is known as Type 1 diabetes, where the body cannot produce insulin. Eleven percent of the kids treated there for diabetes are Type 2, where the body develops a resistance to insulin and no longer uses insulin properly.

But not long ago, none of the patients at Children’s had Type 2 diabetes, and each year the number of obese kids with this form of the disease increases.

Between 2002 and 2005, 3,600 young people were newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, according to a NIH statistic.

Dietitian Erica Davis counsels diabetes patients at Children’s and leads classes for the kids and their families. She says she is seeing more Type 2 patients each year, and they keep getting younger.

She says the youngest one she has seen is nine years old.

While she is saddened to see so many kids come down with this form of the disease, Davies admits she is not surprised. She says some of these patients have been living on junk food.

“To change that habit is very difficult, because a lot of the time the parents are also eating chips and soda,” she says.

Davies is working with individual families, but Cogen stresses it will take a societal change to stop the spread of Type 2 among America’s children.

She says a national debate is now underway concerning the best way to reach that goal.

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