Overweight and obese children are at risk for pre-diabetes

Healthy eating and exercise are key to avoiding diabetes in children.

Michigan State University Extension educators are noting an increase in the reports of children being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, which when left untreated leads to the development of Type II diabetes. In Michigan, it’s estimated that close to a quarter of a million adolescents are pre-diabetic.

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood glucose level is higher than it should be, but not high enough to be considered diabetes,” said MSU Extension Educator Cathy Newkirk. “Children who don’t get enough physical activity, are overweight, have a parent or other close relative with Type II diabetes or are American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander are at highest risk of developing Type II diabetes.” 

“If your child fits one or more of these categories or has been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, don’t despair,” said Newkirk. “For children and adults alike, research has shown that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the risk. Equally important is regular physical activity and eating healthy foods.”

Newkirk explained that losing weight is a challenge for many adults and youth. However, since being overweight or obese are the main causes of diabetes, there is increased motivation to reach and maintain a healthy weight. One way to reach this goal is to increase physical activity. “Children should aim for 60 minutes a day,” Newkirk said. “That doesn’t have to be all at one time! Twenty minutes at a time, three times a day will work. Bike riding, playing ball, running, walking and dancing are all activities that will help. If this seems like a lot for your child, small steps are okay. Any amount of activity that is more than what he or she is currently doing will help.” Once the habit to exercise is in place, the time spent can be gradually increased. If a child is overweight, Newkirk advises parents to check with their family doctor before the child starts a physical activity program.

Newkirk added that focusing on eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods will also help children lose weight. A new study reported in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services HealthBeat found lower vitamin D levels in obese children than in children whose weight is typical for their age. This research corresponds with other studies that have found that lower levels of vitamin D and calcium may play a role in the development of Type II diabetes in adults. According to Michelle Hutchison of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “Those children with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood were also the children that seemed to be at the highest risk of having pre-diabetes.”

“Consuming 100 to 200 fewer calories a day can also make a significant difference,” Newkirk said. According to the National Diabetes Prevention Program, drinking water instead of soda or sweetened fruit juice will save 100 to 150 calories. Snacking on a piece of fruit instead of chips or candy will cut 200 calories. Another 250 calories can be saved by eating a small serving of French fries instead of a large serving. And eating sugar-free, non-fat pudding or frozen yogurt instead of ice cream will save 150 calories. “Small changes like this along with increased physical activity will help any child or adult lose weight,” Newkirk concluded.

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