Like Scylla and Charybdis, the twin sea monsters of Greek mythology, diabetes and obesity are the twin medical monsters confronting America's children. Diabetes and obesity have even been featured as the story line in a recent episode of Law & Order, a show well-known for focusing on issues that matter.
What's going on? Diabetes and obesity are twin raging epidemics endangering the health and welfare of our nation's young people. In New York City, by the age of 4, there is a one in three chance that the child will be obese. More than 40% of children are at an unhealthy weight at ages 2 and 3.1 National statistics are similar.
Type II diabetes, long known as "adult-onset diabetes", is now being recognized as a significant juvenile disorder. Up to 45% of the children diagnosed with diabetes have the type II form.2 And the numbers keep increasing.
Type II diabetes and obesity are closely related - being overweight is one of the two major risk factors for developing type II diabetes. The other major risk factor, not surprisingly, is lack of exercise - not being physically active.
Why be concerned? Both diabetes and obesity contribute to additional severe health issues. Obesity is the leading cause of pediatric high blood pressure and increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Uncontrolled diabetes, over time, can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, neurologic disorders, and blindness.
So we are very concerned for our children's well-being. The good news - and it is very good news - is both conditions are lifestyle-related. Bad diet and lack of exercise cause both conditions. This is well-known. It is also well-known that maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise prevents obesity and prevents or delays type II diabetes.3,4
As parents, it's up to us to set the standards. If we're eating healthy, balanced meals, our kids will do the same. If we exercise regularly and keep ourselves fit and trim, our kids will exercise regularly, too.
1"Child obesity picture grim among New York City poor", The New York Times, April 6, 2006.
2Fagot-Campagna A: Emergence of type 2 diabetes mellitus in children: Epidemiological evidence. Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism 13(Suppl 6): S1395-S1402, 2000.
3Hamman RF, et al: Effect of weight loss with lifestyle intervention on risk of diabetes. Diabetes Care 29:2102-2107, 2006.
4Knowler WC, et al: Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. New England Journal of Medicine 346(6):393-403, 2002.