The best way to prevent Type 2 diabetes in children is to get the whole family involved.
“You can’t just make your Type 2 diabetic child adopt a healthy lifestyle; everyone in the household has to be committed to eating healthily and exercising,” said Dr. Berrin Ergun-Longmire, the new chief of the Pediatric Endocrinology Division at The University of Toledo.Ergun-Longmire wants families to understand that a healthier lifestyle, which can prevent or reverse Type 2 diabetes, can include an occasional splurge as part of a normal childhood experience.
“I always tell parents that their children can have an occasional piece of pizza or cake,” she said. “The bottom line is that children need to know what they are eating and approach it in moderation, but they need family guidance when it comes to that.”
The situation has devolved to the point where children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes — a disease that is typically found in the elderly — because one-third of the children in the United States are overweight. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, those suffering from Type 1 diabetes can only be treated, not cured, because their body doesn’t produce insulin.
“The trick to understanding Type 2 diabetes is to pretend that your body is a power plant that burns sugar as its fuel,” Ergun-Longmire said. “For your body to remain alive, it initially converts the food that you eat into an energy source in the form of sugar. Then, with the help of insulin, your body will tap into this sugar and carry it inside the body’s cells where it is burned as fuel.”
However, for people with Type 2 diabetes, their insulin cannot transport the sugar from the bloodstream into their cells, according to Ergun-Longmire. This is because these people have an excessive amount of body fat that keeps the insulin from doing its job.
Ergun-Longmire said the key to preventing and defeating Type 2 diabetes is to make sure that your child’s body fat is not excessive. This is where a healthy lifestyle comes into play.
She suggests swapping whole milk for skim and choosing fruit instead of fruit juice. Exercise is a key component, but it doesn’t mean buying a gym membership.
“Your child could join a soccer team or run in the basement or listen to music and dance,” she said. “You need to find ways to incorporate exercise into your child’s life without making it seem like a chore.”
Ergun-Longmire practices at Rocket Pediatrics, in both Toledo and Waterville, with her team: Dr. James Horner, Nurse Practitioner Janet Moore, Staff Dietitian Michelle Cleland and Staff Nurse Cereda Blanchard. They can be reached at 567.952.2100.