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Ask an Expert: Type II Diabetes and Children

Yeong Rhee, Ph.D., Professor and Interim Head, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

My child was just diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I thought only adults can get that disease. Do you have any tips for me and my family?

Yes, you are right. Type II diabetes was considered “adult onset diabetes” in the past because it mostly was seen in the adults, not in children. However, more and more children have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes. That is because overweight and obesity can cause Type II diabetes.

As you might already know, the number of overweight or obese children has increased drastically in the last decade. As we become overweight and obese, our body isn’t as able to use insulin (insulin is a hormone regulating blood sugar levels).

As we gain weight, fat increases around the organs in the body. Increased fat interferes with blood sugar uptake by the muscles or other organs, which leads to high sugar levels in the blood. Thus, maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if your child is overweight or obese is important.

Maintain a healthy body weight.
Although about 5 to 10 percent of weight loss will help lower or better control blood sugar levels, do not restrict your child’s food intake too much. Restricting food intake too much will affect your child’s normal growth and development. Try to avoid or prevent excessive weight gain in your child rather than focusing too much on weight loss.

Monitor blood sugar levels regularly.
Monitoring your child’s blood sugar level is important, so develop a regular schedule for blood sugar level checkups, such as before each mealtime and bed time, and before and after exercise.

Know the amount of your child’s carbohydrate intake.
Keep track of your child’s carbohydrate intake. Spread out carbohydrate such as starchy food, including bread, cookies, cakes, potatoes, milk and ice cream, throughout the day. You may schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian to learn about carbohydrate counting and distribution among meals and snacks for better control of your child’s blood sugar levels.

A healthy lifestyle, including healthful eating and increased physical activity, will help maintain a healthy weight and blood sugar control.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans laid out a healthy eating pattern that will be helpful in regulating your child’s diabetes and promoting your family’s good health.

A healthful eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups - dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds and soy products
  • Oils

A healthful eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium

Lastly, the Choose MyPlate website, www.choosemyplate.gov/kids, has fun games, activity sheets, videos, songs and much more for your child and information for parents to learn about a healthy lifestyle.

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