Did you know that type 2 diabetes is no longer called “adult onset” diabetes because of the dramatically rising rates of diabetes in children and teens? In fact, one in three Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. Why the staggering increase in diabetes among our young people? The answer is pretty simple…obesity. Diabetes is obesity’s “twin” epidemic! Between 50% and 80% of all diabetes cases are associated with unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles.
Diabetes is a family disease.
The behaviors and habits of our families, as we all know, help to mold the adults we will become. Family traditions are some of the most powerful influences in our lives. How we eat, our levels of activity, and our attitudes about health and fitness, all are dependent upon what we learn as children. Add to behavioral influences, family medical history, and it is not difficult to understand why diabetes is considered a “family disease.” Knowing the risks for developing diabetes is half the battle. The following are the primary risk factors we should be aware of for the sake of our health and that of our children.
Know the Risks
Weight. Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
Fat distribution. If your body stores fat primarily in your abdomen, your risk of type 2 diabetes is greater than if your body stores fat elsewhere, such as your hips and thighs.
Inactivity. The less active you are, the greater your risk of type 2 diabetes. Physical activity helps you control your weight, uses up glucose as energy and makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.
Family history. The risk of type 2 diabetes increases if your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes.
Race. Although it’s unclear why, people of certain races – including blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans – are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than whites are.
Age. While the rate of type 2 diabetes is increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults, the risk for older adults also increases as they age, especially after 45.
The good news is that diabetes doesn’t have to be the inevitable fate of our family members. Diabetes is unique, in that responsibility for its management or prevention falls almost entirely on the individual and the family. While doctors, nurses, nutritionists and diabetes educators play an important role in providing the information patients need to prevent or manage the disease, what happens in the home, ultimately has the most impact on whether diabetes is prevented or if it is controlled for individuals who are already diagnosed with the condition.
A model for family-based diabetes prevention.
In a program conducted by the University of Chicago and funded by the National Institutes of Health, families worked together to learn about good nutrition and exercise. The goal of the program, called Reach In! Reach Out! is to lower the risk of diabetes in overweight young people between the ages of 9 – 12.
What these families discovered is that when they became more active and improved their nutrition habits, they had more energy during the day, slept better at night, the children had better performance in school and parents saw an improvement in their job performance. The health benefits included better heart health, improved weight, increased strength, more stamina and as a result all of the family members were at a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Make it a family affair.
Making better lifestyle choices is not always easy, but one thing is for sure, if you have the support of those around you it is a whole lot simpler! So take up the slogan of “one for all and all for one,” when it comes to getting your family on the right track. Just remember that as parents, you are the most influential people in your children’s lives. You can have a huge impact on your children’s behavior. To be a healthy family, you have to involve everyone, both parents and children, working together to form healthy habits that will follow you through life.
Set a good example example. Adult family members should lead by example… eating healthy and exercising regularly. At the same time, they need to explain to their children why they are eating fruit as a snack or vegetables at supper and why they are going to the gym every day.
Start when children are young. It’s much easier – for both adults and children – to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose pounds later. Start young children off right by only serving nutritious, healthy snacks such as fruit, and making physical activity a regular part of their daily routine.
Be active together. Make being active together – rather than sitting in front of the TV or playing video games – a normal and fun part of family life.
Cook together. Invite children to help with family meals so they can gain a better understanding of healthy ingredients and they can become more involved in making healthy food choices for themselves. When serving, watch the portion sizes, the “clean plate club” is only a good idea when the plate has reasonable portion sizes.
Eat together. When families eat together, parents have the chance to offer nutritious food to their children who, in turn, can see their parents eating healthy food, and everyone can enjoy catching up on the day’s events.
Create a family goal chart. When trying to build healthier habits, a goal chart is a great way for family members to keep track of their eating and exercise habits. Choose family goals, such as exercising every day and eating more fruits and vegetables. Then praise family members who achieve their goals by doing something fun as a family to celebrate.