Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. Glucose, which comes from the foods we eat, is the major source of energy needed to fuel the body's functions. To use glucose, the body needs the hormone insulin. But in people with diabetes, the body either can't make insulin or the insulin doesn't work in the body like it should.
The two major types of diabetes are:
Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks thepancreas and destroys the cells that make insulin
Type 2 diabetes, in which the pancreas can still make insulin, but the body doesn't respond to it properly
In both types of diabetes, glucose can't get into the cells normally. This causes a rise in blood sugar levels, which can make someone sick if not treated.
Can Type 1 Diabetes Be Prevented?
Type 1 diabetes can't be prevented. No one knows for sure what causes type 1 diabetes, but scientists think it has something to do with genes. But just getting the genes for diabetes isn't usually enough. In most cases, a child has to be exposed to something else — like a virus — to get type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes isn't contagious, so children and teens can't catch it from another person or pass it along to friends or family members.
While type 1 diabetes can't be prevented, some research suggests that breastfeeding, avoiding early introduction of solid foods, and other factors might play a role in lowering the risk of developing the disease.
Can Type 2 Diabetes Be Prevented?
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented. Excessive weight gain, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle are all factors that put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes.
In the past, type 2 diabetes almost exclusively affected adults, but children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which experts say is related to the rapidly increasing number of overweight kids.
Children with one or more family members with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing the disease.
At first, there may be no symptoms. Over time, you may notice:
Unexplained weight loss
Hungry or thirsty a lot, even after eating
Peeing a lot
Slow healing of sores or cuts
Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
Take your child to the doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.
If you think you child might have diabetes, take him or her to see the doctor immediately.
Taking Steps to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
These simple strategies can help reduce your kids' risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other associated health problems:
Make sure kids eat a healthy diet. Encouraging your kids to eat low-fat, nutrient-rich foods — like whole-grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and lean proteins — can help prevent excessive weight gain, a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Limit sugary foods and beverages. Consuming lots of sugar-filled foods and beverages — like sodas, juices, and iced teas — also can lead to excessive weight gain.
Encourage increased physical activity. Staying active and decreasing the amount of time spent in sedentary activities — like watching TV or playing video or computer games — can also reduce the risk of weight gain and help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Being active can be as simple as walking the dog or mowing the lawn. Try to do something that gets you and your kids moving every day.
If you think your child may be overweight and, therefore, at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help you determine what your child's weight goals should be and how to reach them.
It's important for growing kids to get enough calories and nutrients for normal growth and development, while preventing the excessive weight gain that can set the stage for type 2 diabetes and other health problems.