Prediabetes is Rising for Adolescents and Young Adults

Nearly 25 percent of young adults and 1 in 5 adolescents in the United States have prediabetes, according to a study published Monday in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics.

Prediabetes – a condition wherein blood sugar levels are elevated, but not high enough to warrant a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes – was estimated at 18% among adolescents ages 12 to 18, and 24% among young adults ages 19 to 34.

When diabetes strikes during childhood, it is routinely assumed to be Type 1, or juvenile-onset diabetes. However, in just the last two decades, Type 2 diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes) has been reported among U.S. children and adolescents with increasing frequency.  This is due to the childhood obesity epidemic and the fact that children have decreased physical levels.

What can be done to help children ward off diabetes and begin to enjoy healthy, active lifestyles?

Parents Magazine recently printed the following five tips from two pros – Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com and coauthor of the new book, Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies, and Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, author of the new book, The Prediabetes Diet Plan.

1. Eat at home. According to Smithson, “Fast food equals more calories and fat, less fiber and nutrition. Eating at home offers opportunities to teach kids about cooking and also offers great communication opportunities.” Wright adds, “Sharing healthy meals as a family is critical to balancing out the non-stop messaging kids are exposed to outside the home encouraging them to buy junk food and eat on-the-fly.  Kids learn by example, so demonstrating what healthy eating looks like while they’re living under your roof is a critical self-care skill they’ll need for life.”

2. Snack smarter. When it’s after-school snack time, Wright urges parents to offer their kids a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, yogurt, or cheese sticks instead refined crackers or nutrient-poor packaged snack foods. She says, “Hungry kids may be more willing to try something new, so take the after-school time to introduce new foods to your kids since they may be more receptive to them then.”

3. Plan it, buy it. Encouraging your child to plan a meal (like dinner), write a grocery list for the items needed and then selecting those items when at the grocery store can be very empowering for children, says Smithson. She adds, “Giving them a say in what’s served, and in what new foods they (or the family) should try may make it more likely that they’ll take a taste when dinner time comes around.”

4. Help them read between the lines. Smithson says it’s key to teach kids, even from a young age, to be food media literate. “It’s important for parents and children to understand food advertising and to take a stand against it by not always giving in to it, Smithson says. Because children are exposed to thousands of hours of targeted advertising for fast food, snacks, and sugar-sweetened cereal, Smithson urges parents to help their kids read between the lines of food marketing strategies. (You can learn more about food marketing and children by checking out Food Marketing to Youth and other info from Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.)

5. Play Actively. Wright says it’s key to keep your kids moving throughout the day as much as possible (and to join in on the fun when you can). She says, “Physical activity naturally stimulates chemicals that help clear glucose out of the blood and prevent diabetes.” Smithson agrees, and encourages kids not only to increase play time, but to make sure it’s active play. For most kids, 60 minutes or more of physical activity is recommended daily. (For more ideas to help your kids – and entire family – stay fit, check out Tips for Getting Active by the National Heart Lung, & Blood Institute (NHLBI)).

How can parents encourage their children to improve their fitness and weight management skills?  In my opinion, make physical activities and games FUN for the whole family!  The key to successful participation is creativity and positive reinforcement as well as scheduling a regular time during the week as “family playtime.”  Families need to work – and play – together to enhance physical fitness while building stronger relationships.  With an integrated approach, parents, grandparents and children can create fun, recreational games that also increase self-esteem – and help families bond – while increasing kids’ fitness.

To learn how Fitness for Health can help your child enjoy physical fitness, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.