This marks the first of my November Blogging for a Cure postings. Throughout this month, I will attempt to post two or three times a week on the subject of diabetes. As will many Internet scribes: Blogcritics, Blogger, and individual writers throughout cyberspace will devote time and effort to spread the word about this insidious killer and about the work of the American Diabetes Association. The idea: to let people know the facts about diabetes, to encourage people to get tested and to monitor their disease, and to urge everyone to help involved in the effort to find a cure.
The issue is a personal one for me. My father, who died last month, had diabetes, and the disease played a contributory role to his death. My maternal grandmother is one of the 16 million Americans fighting the disease. So am I; dealing with this chronic illness is a constant struggle. And I have two children: My constant prayer is that they will be spared, but genetics puts them at a disadvantage. My responsibility, therefore, is to help them make positive health decisions that may protect them from ending up like their mother.
The kids are my number-one concern, of course, and recent news shows that this worry is justified. When we think of children, we tend to think of Type I diabetes, which is known as “juvenile diabetes.” This develops when the body’s immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that make the hormone insulin, which regulates blood glucose. This form of diabetes usually strikes children and young adults, who need several insulin injections a day or an insulin pump to survive. But the American Diabetes Association reports that up to 45 percent of kids newly diagnosed with have Type II, and young girls are more at risk than young boys.
Type II diabetes usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder called “borderline diabetes,” in which a person’s cells do not use insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce it. This form of the disease is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, prior history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, and physical inactivity. Doctors say some people classified as African-American, Latino-American, Native-American, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk. And increasingly, children who are overweight and lead sedentary lives — perhaps because they spend too much time in front of video games and computer screens — are at risk too.
Diabetes educator Lynn Baillif, M.S., R.D, operates Fit Kids, a program that teaches at-risk children healthy eating and exercise habits. She tells Medstar.com, “The best thing that we can tell parents is to get your kids to be more active and help them to pick healthier foods.”
Here is where the difference between the two types of diabetes comes to the fore: In Type I or “juvenile” diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. In Type II, it can, but can’t process it properly. While there is no cure for diabetes, recent studies suggest that body fat interferes with the ability for cells to use insulin correctly. Meaning, reducing body fat can improve a Type II diabetic’s health.
As more and more children are diagnosed with the “adult” version of the disease, it becomes increasingly important to urge parents and schools to serve healthier foods, to teach children to make wise dietary choices, and to promote the importance of fitness and exercise inside and outside of phys-ed classes.
Parents and guardians can help kids by presenting a good example: Whether you have diabetes or not, make sure your kids see you eating a balanced, low-fat diet. And drag your children away from sedentary activities — get them involved in sports leagues or dance classes. Better yet, join them for a walk or run occasionally, take them swimming, and play physical sports with them. With luck and consistency, this can provide all kinds of benefits both for the children’s physical and emotional well-being — and for yours.
For information on what you can do to live a healthier life and to help spread diabetes awareness, visit the American Diabetes Association Web site. And become a Diabetes Advocate — get involved in the cause.