The number of kids being diagnosed each year with obesity-related diabetes is on the rise, according to a pediatric endocrinologist at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Shazhan Amed is halfway through a study that will provide Canada with its first 10-year incidence trends for Type 2 diabetes, a disease that didn’t exist in kids as recently as 25 years ago.
“There’s a lot of work in the country around trying to support children, youth and families in adopting healthy lifestyles,” Amed says. “Looking at the rate over time is a really nice indicator of how well our efforts are working.”
According to her preliminary results, they’re not working very well.
Amed, whose study is supported by the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program, says the last 12 months of data show many more children being diagnosed with the disease compared with the last time this information was gathered, between 2006 and 2008.
Based on that, she’s predicting her final findings will show the rate of children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes has gone up in the last decade, more steeply among young girls.
It’s a daunting diagnosis, says Dr. Jan Hux, especially for young people.
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“There’s a huge adjustment,” says Hux, who is the president of Diabetes Canada. “For the rest of their lives they’ll live with diabetes and that will involve a constant managing of blood sugar levels by controlling what they eat, medication they take, and how active they are.”
There’s also not always an easy fix, she says. Many children with early-onset Type 2 diabetes come from low-income families and marginalized communities, which makes it incredibly hard for parents to access the resources needed to help their children better manage the disease.
“For a sensitive child knowing they’re being an added burden, it can play on the mind,” Hux says. “It can be quite complicated.”
Type 2 diabetes carries some pretty negative implications for girls in particular, Amed says. Not only are they living with diabetes but they also pass certain risks on to any future offspring.
“It’s almost like a vicious cycle,” she says, with girls developing Type 2 diabetes and then passing down the risk of high blood sugar, obesity and Type 2 diabetes to their children.
Ultimately, Amed says, she expects her work will be “a great case for prevention.”
She says she wants health care providers to realize that even though there are less children with Type 2 diabetes than there are adults with the disease, that’s doesn’t make theirs a better news story.
“This disease is different in kids. It’s more severe, [complications] come on quicker, and there are very significant implications,” Amed says.
“We need to pay more attention to this issue… this is a completely preventable disease; 25 years ago it was unheard of in children.”
Hux, however, says it isn’t all bad news.
After all, she notes, many policy initiatives around healthy eating are just now coming to the fore.