Gurgaon, 9 Jan, 2015: The incidence of type 2 diabetes was considered a rarity in children two decades back. But, that was also a time when children were more out on the street playing rather than plugged on to video games indoors! As Indians undergo a radical economic and lifestyle transformation, an epidemiological transition is also emerging with a rise in type 2 diabetes in children a major worrying trend.
Economic growth accompanied by large scale urbanization inevitably creates social dynamics that increase risk factors for diabetes. As the epidemiology changes from communicable diseases and infections to lifestyle diseases, the latter is also engulfing children, especially in urban cities like Delhi and Gurgaon.
“The factors that have given rise to lifestyle diseases in India include dropping levels of physical activity, increased intake of high calorie food, a total sedentary way of living, and a consequent increase in overweight population. Unfortunately these conditions do not leave children untouched. A major concern of the day in urban centers is a rise in child obesity. When these factors combine with genetic predisposition, they sometimes lead to early onset of type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Sandeep kharb, Consultant Endocrinology, Paras hospitals, Gurgaon.
The single biggest risk factor for type 2 diabetes in children is excess weight. Obesity, particularly excess abdominal weight, increases the chances of insulin resistance in the body. With less focus on exercise and physical activity and easy availability of high calorie food, a lot of children today are turning overweight for their age.
“Unlike in rural areas and smaller towns where children still cycle to school or venture out in the playgrounds every evening to play, urban kids are increasingly becoming couch potatoes, which is a worrisome development. Addiction to television and video games, changes in modes of transportation, easy availability of elevators everywhere has drastically reduced the levels of activity in children. Plus today high energy low fibre foods like burgers and pizzas are available in school cafeterias and kids lap up these delicacies on an everyday basis. Undesired weight gain is a logical outcome,” says Dr Sandeep Kharb, Consultant Endocrinology, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon.
One of the major threats to healthy living, diabetes today afflicts over 65 million Indians – already the second highest population of diabetics in the world after China. It would be dangerous for the health of the country to allow children fall into the diabetes trap.
There is enough scientific evidence to suggest that a large number of cases of diabetes can be prevented by following a healthy diet, and indulging in regular physical activity. In children and young adults, the onset of diabetes can certainly be prevented or delayed. The solution lies in changing the urban culture before it is too late. Along with parents, schools too need to become more active in preventing a childhood diabetes epidemic.
Diabetes Prevention in Children: Major Steps
Make Exercise a National Culture: The importance of physical exercise in our lives has been repeated ad nauseum. However, unlike the West, urban Indians are yet to convert to a culture of exercise. To prevent diabetes from emerging as a national epidemic, we need to make exercise a national culture. Push your children out of the house every evening as a matter of policy. Let them roam and run and burn their fat. Allot one day of the week to video games or better don’t introduce them to your children altogether. Schools have an important role to play in this by allotting compulsory hours to physical activity and play.
Promoting a Balanced Diet: Even if it is convenient and quick, try to avoid dependence on fast food as a family. Kids learn what they see. Make sure they follow a balanced diet including everything from vegetables, fruits, to wholegrain and fibrous food and are not too much into junk food. Here again schools have a role to play by keeping a track of items being served in their cafeterias.
Greater Research: While we see the rising threat, we do not have any concrete data or research to establish the rise in diabetes among children. We need more emphasis on collecting precise data and greater research to better understand the causes. This will help public health professionals to institute better surveillance mechanisms among youngsters and better preventive measures.