In a case that is probably (and unfortunately) not a surprise; a Texas three-year-old girl has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The little girl weighs 35kg (5 stone), and is the youngest case of the disease ever recorded. Her parents, who reside in Houston, are also obese. According to Dr Michael Yafi of the Department of Paediatric Endocrinology at the University of Texas, this was a result of “poor family nutritional habits with uncontrolled [consumption] of calories and fat”. There is no family history of diabetes.
Fortunately, the child has been successfully treated; over the last 6 months she has been given the drug Metformin to control her blood sugar levels and a low calorie diet. This has resulted in enough weight loss to return her blood sugar levels to normal, and the diabetes has been reversed/cured temporarily. However, it may return if her nutritional habits descend to their former (non)glory.
This case reveals an explosion of diabetes in children and teenagers. Dr Yafi stated, “The incidence of type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically worldwide in children due to the epidemic of child obesity. Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of type 2 diabetes even in very young obese children. This highlights how important it is that children get a healthy start to life.”
Children in Texas fare worse than most; 32.2 percent of Texas children are overweight or obese, which is above the national average in the USA. Similar figures have emerged in the UK. The youngest known case of type 2 diabetes in Britain is a seven-year-old, and approximately 1,300 young people under 18 have been diagnosed with the illness.
Considering the (usually) quick metabolism of children and teenagers, it is a wonder that previously healthy children are able to gain the excess of weight required to trigger type 2 diabetes. The amount of food consumed would have to be astronomical, and the resulting lifestyle so sedentary that there is little hope of turning it around. So how does it get to this point? How do parents look at their severely overweight children and fail to recognise a problem?
Perhaps the first logical answer is lack of education about food and nutrition. The 2004 documentary Supersize Me, in which Morgan Spurlock self-tests the effects of eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month, brings this to the forefront. Spurlock takes to the streets and asks a selection of people whether they know what a calorie is. A disconcertingly large amount of people say they do not. Some give semi-ludicrous examples of what they think a calorie may be, each more inaccurate than the last.
It is very rare to meet a person who knows the specifics of the effect sugar/high GI foods have on insulin levels. Too few people are aware of the recommended daily calorie intake of females vs. males. And the magnitude of food in people’s shopping trolleys (cereals, raisin-bread, yoghurt, etc.) masquerading as healthy is frightening.
The second answer is economics. Healthy, unprocessed, organic food is expensive. The price of peanut butter loaded with salt, sugar and preservatives is often less than half the cost of its just-peanuts healthier counterpart. It is infinitely cheaper and less time consuming to buy the family dinner basket from KFC than shop for, cook, and serve a real family dinner at home.
It seems the obvious solutions are to ditch the idea that pointing out unhealthy weight is “body shaming”. It’s not. Children/their parents should be formally educated on the nature of nutrition. Making healthy food cheaper and more accessible wouldn’t hurt either; but hey, finding an economic way to do that while ensuring distributors don’t go broke is a tricky one. However, if we want to truly combat childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, we must find a way to facilitate any remedy we can.
Image via Hsj.co.uk