Curbing children's unhealthy habits

Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in kids, so pediatricians are emphasizing the importance of eating right

CRYSTAL LAKE – Adult-onset diabetes isn’t growing up. It is getting younger.

According to a recently released study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Type 2 diabetes increased by more than 30 percent in children between 2000 and 2009, raising the frequency of the disease to 0.46 per 1,000 children. The study showed more than 20,000 people younger than 20 had Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body does not make sufficient insulin or becomes resistant to it, has historically been linked to overweight and obese adults. But Dr. Laura Buthod, a pediatrician with Centegra Health System, said she is seeing the dangers that lead to the disease more often and earlier in children.

“A third of the children that walk through my office now are overweight or obese,” Buthod said. “And we’re starting to see it more and more in preschoolers. We’re definitely looking for [diabetes in children] and we never used to.”

The earlier complications from diabetes begins in a person’s life the more at-risk they are for major health problems, Buthod said. Those who get Type 2 diabetes between 18 and 44 are 14 times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who get Type 2 diabetes at 45 or older, Buthod said.

Buthod said steps can be taken right at birth to help keep children on a healthy path. Breast-feeding for six to 12 months has shown to curb obesity, Buthod said, and helps keep cholesterol and blood pressure low.

As children grow it is important to start healthy eating tendencies right away as those habits can be hard to break as soon as sixth grade.

“We have a big role as pediatricians but parents are the ones who can really make the difference in their children’s’ lives,” Buthod said. “Ask any adult how tough it is to incorporate activity and eating right into the daily routine and they will tell you it is very difficult. We know it’s tough, but it’s important.”

Dr. Daniel So, director of the diabetes department at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital, said one of the biggest challenges is getting the community to respond to the services offered through hospitals and schools.

He said Advocate offers a number of programs to promote weight loss and healthy eating, but they are rarely well attended.

“We have very active programs to educate young people about how to eat right, how to exercise, how to shop correctly. Those things are available,” he said. “The sad thing is attendance is so low. The programs are available but now we need the response to be better.”

One program that has caught on is the CATCH program – or Coordinated Access to Community Health – aimed at promoting healthy eating and physical activity for elementary and middle school students.

Meaghan Haak, health promotion coordinator for the McHenry County Department of Health, said the program started with two schools in District 200 in 2006 before expanding to the 35 elementary and middle schools and eight preschools it now serves in McHenry County.

The changes in habits are starting to become evident in children and parents, Haak said.

“When we first started getting away from cupcakes for birthday parties at schools we would get a lot of negative feedback from parents but that has changed,” Haak said. “We’re seeing a huge difference in the food kids are choosing and the birthday treats they bring. We’re making progress.”

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