Diabesity: Diabetes + Obesity

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Diabetes + ObesityDiabetes (Diabetes + Obesity)
A new childhood epidemic

You’ve heard of diabetes and you’re undoubtedly aware of the obesity epidemic in the United States, but are you aware of the growing disease affecting our children? It’s “diabesity,” the combination of diabetes and obesity, which has the potential to become the most widespread and devastating disease to affect our children since the 1916 polio outbreak.  

Diabesity on the Rise
Diabesity is a new term for a
condition where the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity are present. It’s a condition that affects both children and adults, and it’s growing out of control throughout the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of type 2 diabetes has tripled in the last 30 years, and at least 80 percent of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Presently, nearly 20 percent of teens in the United States between 12 to 18 years of age are overweight, and the number of overweight children between the ages of 6 to 11 years of age has almost doubled since the early 1980s. To top it off, the percentage of overweight adolescents has risen by nearly 300 percent.

Francine Ratner Kaufman, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist and the president of the American Diabetes Association, stated that “In less than a decade, people with type 2 diabetes has changed from a disease of our grandparents and parents to a disease of our children.” Kaufman also notes that in 1992, it was rare for most pediatric centers to have young patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes; however, by 1999, diabetes accounted for 20 to 45 percent of new cases, depending on geographic location. 

The combination of these staggering numbers has alarmed pediatricians across the country and across the world. According to British medical authorities, the number of newly reported cases of childhood diabetes will increase by 70 percent by 2020. Studies suggest that one in four overweight children already shows the early signs of type 2 diabetes (impaired glucose intolerance) and 60 percent already have one risk factor for heart disease.

The High Cost of Diabesity
The December 2009 issue of “Diabetes Care” estimates that the number of people with diabetes will double from 24 million to more than 44 million by 2034, and the cost of diabetic treatment will triple from 113 to 336 billion during the same time period. Add the cost of treating obesity (147 billion dollars) to those numbers and the total cost for the growing epidemic of diabesity may reach 500 billion dollars every year.

The Causes of Diabesity
There are many factors, both genetic and lifestyle-oriented, that influence the development of obesity and diabetes. Children growing up in today’s fast-paced world ingest higher quantities of over-processed fast food and sugar- and fat-laden junk food. Supersized meal portions, emotional eating and sedentary lifestyles add more fuel to the fire when it comes to the chances of developing diabetes, obesity or both.

According to “The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988–1994),” 26 percent of American children watched at least four hours of television per day. The study showed that the amount of hours of TV watched per day is correlated to a child’s BMI (Body Mass Index). The more hours of TV watched equals a greater BMI; the more hours spent watching television, the fatter the child.

Advertisers Are Stalking Your Children
Did you know that food companies spend more than 12 billion dollars each year marketing to children and adolescents? Since children lack the skills to discriminate between commercial ads from noncommercial shows, they are unable to recognize that commercials are designed to sell them products, not to entertain them.
In March 2007, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation released the largest study to date on television food advertising directed at children. The study found that food is the top product seen by children in all television advertising. About 34 percent of all the food ads aimed at kids feature candy and snacks, while 28 percent show cereal and 10 percent sell fast food. Only four percent of all commercials aimed at kids are for healthy dairy products and only about one percent tout the benefits of fruit juice. Of the 8,854 ads reviewed, none were for fruits or vegetables. It’s easy to see why we have an epidemic of obesity in the United States. 

Small Steps to Big Changes in Your Child’s Lifestyle
The good news is that it only takes a few small but significant diet and lifestyle changes to cut the risk for type 2 diabetes by half. One clinical trial, conducted by the Diabetes Prevention Program, showed that by losing a modest amount of weight, exercising for 30 minutes, 5 times a week, and making healthier food choices reduces the risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

Be a Role Model
According to recent studies, a child who grows up with at least one obese parent has a 79 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese. Regrettably, 60 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese. While it’s understandable that hectic work schedules and family commitments make it difficult to plan family-focused activities and healthy meals, given the growing statistics, I have to wonder if we really have a choice. 
The bottom line is that diabesity doesn’t have to happen to your child. All it takes is a family commitment to eating healthy, getting active and most importantly having fun!

Janet Little is a Certified Nutritionist with Henry’s Farmers Markets.