Type II diabetes, commonly called adult onset diabetes is becoming increasingly common among children who are overweight and sedentary. Type I diabetes, which is not a lifestyle disease and is much less common, is traditionally called juvenile diabetes.
Having a family full of diabetics, including both type I and type II, I have seen the pain and problems that come from this epidemic. The following talking points to help your kids learn about diabetes are focused on helping them avoid becoming victims of type II diabetes.
There is no more important message for children than to encourage them to eat healthy foods. Children can get the impression from television, school lunch and fast food restaurants that sweet snacks and desserts are normal and healthy. In fact, our bodies can only tolerate dessert a few times each week and cookies and other sweet snacks should be replaced by fresh fruits and vegetables. Nothing sweeter than a granola bar is appropriate as an after school snack.
As kids learn to eat right, they also need to learn patterns of exercise. After school activities for many kids are limited to video games and Facebook. Help your kids learn the importance of exercise. Enroll them in a sport or other physical activity, like soccer, ballet, gymnastics, softball, etc. Whatever you do, make sure that at least three times each week your children get at least 30 minutes of exercise.
See the doctor
Be sure to get your children to the doctor on an annual basis. The doctor will check their blood and screen them for diabetes and other diseases. The doctor will also help you reinforce important health messages.
Don't teach your kids to diet
As important as eating a healthy diet is, it may be counterproductive to teach your kids to diet like an adult. Except in rare cases of childhood obesity, it is best to simply reinforce messages about healthy food and exercise. Avoiding sweets and high-fat snacks and desserts while eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables is key.
Teach your kids about diabetes
Be careful not to make diabetes a boogeyman - in case they actually develop diabetes, you don't want them thinking the world is ending. You want your children to understand the reality that diabetics are often required to have insulin injections four or five times each day. They test their blood sugar six to eight times each day with a pin prick to the finger and must eat right and exercise, too. Point out that diabetes, if not managed well, can lead to blindness and amputations. Diabetes is a leading contributor to heart disease as well.
If you teach your kids about good health using these concepts, you can help them avoid type II diabetes not only as children but as adults. You can help them to feel accountable for their long-term health rather than thinking of their health as a lottery.