How to Prevent Diabetes in Children
Oh no!” Joshua’s mom was visibly upset. “Does that mean he’s going to have diabetes all his life?” Her ten-year-old son was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is becoming a bigger problem in the United States and all over the world. When I was in medical school, only thirty years ago, there were only two types of diabetes: adult onset diabetes, and juvenile diabetes. Now, everything has changed. We no longer use these names because doctors diagnose “adult onset diabetes” in more and more children. Now, you can find either type of diabetes at any age. In fact, over time, the incidence of both types of diabetes are increasing in children, but the rate of type 2 diabetes is increasing much faster.
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus
Type 1 diabetes used to be “Juvenile Diabetes.” People with type 1 diabetes have a lack of insulin from the pancreas, so they require insulin injections. Those who have this type often lose weight and lack energy. Insulin is required to get sugar and amino acids into the cells to make energy. If there is not enough, the blood sugar goes up because it cannot get into the cells, and the cells can starve to death. Before insulin injections people usually died of starvation, no matter how much they ate.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
Just because type 2 diabetes has almost the same name, many doctors think of type 1 and type 2 in the same way. But they are opposite diseases! While type 1 is not enough, type 2 is characterized by “too much” –
- too much sugar
- too much fat
- but mostly, too much insulin.
Over time, the excess insulin causes the cells to take up so much sugar that they block it from the inside, causing insulin resistance. As a result, there is a lot of insulin, but it does not work so the blood sugar goes up. Thus, both types of diabetes share a symptom of high blood sugar and have the same name. Since it takes a long time to build up insulin resistance, this type of diabetes was almost never seen in children. However, because of lifestyle changes, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children is increasing.
Why are more children getting Type 2?
In the past, people had limited choices of food, and often limited amounts. Since children are growing, and are more active than adults, it was hard to get too much. Now, however, life has changed. Children do less physical work and play. They sit at computers, they sit in school, they sit and watch movies, television, or sit in the car instead of walking. However, the problem is less about the activity, and more about the food. While children are sitting in the car, on the computer, or watching a movie, they are eating and drinking snack foods. It’s all about the food. Children just eat too much.
Joshua is a good example of why we are finding more Type 2 in children. His mom told me that he won’t drink anything that doesn’t have flavor. He drinks soda with every meal. Even milk must be flavored with chocolate or strawberry or he won’t drink it. He eats cereal for breakfast. Also, he uses sauces such as ketchup or BBQ sauce on most of his foods. He doesn’t like most fruit or raw vegetables, so he snacks on chips, gummies, yogurt, and goldfish. She thought since he wasn’t eating cake and ice cream, he was eating healthy things. Even though he was a skinny little kid, he has become obese, especially around the middle.
It’s all about the food
In the history of the world, only in the last century do we have a constant supply of food. Prepared foods are ready-to-eat and immediately available. Restaurants specialize in “fast food” that just needs to be tasty. I went with my young adult daughter to a drive-thru because of the COVID-19 epidemic and ordered a “lemonade.” I don’t think it had any lemon in it at all, it tasted more like a liquified key-lime pie. It was sweet enough to give me a headache, and was probably 800 calories! I have noticed that meals and snacks are commonly filled with the taste of sweet. People eat dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can find donuts, cereal, pastries, muffins, and the like everywhere. Even those who are not eating sweet things are getting lots of sugar from chips, fries, and pizza.
Many wonder how they could become obese if they drink diet soda. Interestingly, multiple studies show diet drinks cause more obesity and insulin resistance than those with sugar. The taste of sweet causes the pancreas to make excess insulin. Remember, too much insulin defines type 2 diabetes. The artificial sweeteners also cause insulin resistance and dull the taste receptors on the tongue. The taste buds on your tongue become desensitized to sweet so they have to eat more sugar to get that “sweet” taste, contributing to diabetes. Those who use artificial sweeteners, including “natural” sweeteners, such as monk fruit or stevia, are twice as likely to become obese – and get type 2 diabetes.
What if my kid is starving?
Parents often worry about their children not eating enough. “My child won’t eat anything if it isn’t sweet.” I frequently hear this and then I tell them the truth:
A child will NEVER starve if there is food around – unless they have a serious illness (like type 1 diabetes).
So, a parent doesn’t have to worry about starvation. The parent controls what the child eats, and the child controls how much. It’s automatic. There is no need to tell a child to eat more. They will eat more when they need more. Allowing your child to be hungry is a great way to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Our bodies, by design, store extra food as fat. If a child has fat, they are eating too much. Children should burn fat. If they are constantly eating sugar, the body will burn that instead of fat, and the extra sugar becomes fat storage. Without an empty stomach, the child will not be able to use the fat that’s stored. Being able to burn fat prevents type 2 diabetes. It’s good to be hungry sometimes so don’t worry, they won’t starve.
Only buy whole foods:
- Whole-grain bread, brown rice
- Fresh fish, chicken, meat
- Whole milk, cheese, dairy
Avoid prepared foods:
Avoid artificial sweeteners
- Ice cream
Drinks – This is the MOST IMPORTANT part:
- Don’t have juice, soda, or any sweet drink in the house
- Have water available
You control your child’s food by what you buy.
Buy fresh fruit for snacks
Buy vegetable snacks
- Baby carrots
- Celery sticks
- Bell peppers
Make food at home.
- Don’t go to restaurants.
When my children were young, they often said they were hungry. I would repeat the same phrase every time: “You can have a fruit or vegetable anytime without asking.” Then, I made sure there were always plenty of the above. One of my children was a “sauce hound” so we always had ranch dressing available for him to dip his carrots.
What food children ask for, and what you offer might be different. But by providing healthier options, they will never get diabetes. The complaints will turn to cheers when they are older and know how to eat.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
Part of the training that parents do for their children is to show them what is good, how they can be healthy and happy. Food is a big part of that, remember: “It’s all about the FOOD!”
Joshua’s mom was so concerned about him that she stopped buying sodas and anything with sugar. She bought whole foods, and fruit and veggie snacks – no more gummies, chips, and yogurt. They stopped ordering take-out and fast food. The whole family had to change their eating habits. Within six months, Joshua lost almost thirty pounds and tested negative for type 2 diabetes mellitus – no special diets, and no medications required. Meanwhile his father lost weight and felt better as well. Though there were complaints, the diagnosis of diabetes gave his mother the motivation to endure them and make the necessary changes.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus is both preventable, and reversible – 100%. It’s quite simple in children because parents control the food. They can only eat what’s available. If parents provide only real foods and whole foods, children will neither starve, nor get diabetes.