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Are Your Kids at Risk for Diabetes?

Childhood obesity is now an epidemic, and childhood diabetes is right behind it. And we're not talking about type 1 diabetes. Rather, it's type 2 diabetes. Ironically, this used to be called adult-onset diabetes because kids never had it. Now it's turning up in younger and younger children. The estimates are truly terrifying: one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes as an adult. Today, about one in three American kids is overweight, an almost threefold increase over the last 20 years. And obesity is, hands down, the number one cause of diabetes.

Too Heavy, Too YoungWhat has caused this explosive growth in weight problems among youngsters? Two major factors have contributed and even collaborated:

• A diet heavy in nutrient-depleted, high-carb snack foods and sugary drinks
• Lack of physical activity

When the pounds pile on so early in life, the consequences hit earlier as well. Because overweight and obese kids already show many of the classic risk factors for heart disease, they develop it sooner than other people, often in their thirties and forties. Blood sugar abnormalities are also common in obese children—which means that many are also already well on their way to diabetes.

Dangerous ComplicationsOne of the most distressing things about type 2 diabetes in young people is that it so quickly leads to serious complications—even more so than type 1 diabetes does. Because of this, it's essential to recognize the warning signs leading to diabetes at the earliest stage possible and intervene swiftly.

Heart disease and diabetes aren't the only health problems these children face. Heavy kids are also more likely to suffer from asthma due, in part, to elevated levels of insulin, which exacerbate inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation also means overweight kids often end up suffering with bone and joint problems. Overweight girls tend to reach puberty and begin menstruating at a younger age. As a result, they stop growing sooner than other girls—and end up as short, overweight adults.

How Can We Turn the Tide?

It's not all bad news. Type 2 diabetes, along with all the other health problems associated with obesity in kids, is almost always preventable and can usually be stopped or reversed with weight loss and dietary changes. When a family starts cutting back on unhealthy carbs, everyone benefits, even those who don't need to lose weight or stabilize their blood sugar. Parents and children will be more likely to eat regular meals and fewer unhealthy snacks, along with more fresh vegetables and low-glycemic fruits, better-quality carbohydrates overall and a lot less junk food.

Although you should not put a child under the age of 18 on the Atkins Diet without consulting with his physician, simply cutting out empty carbs and sugary drinks could change the course for a child currently heading down the path to diabetes. If his blood sugar insulin levels are already cause for concern, talk to your doctor about how Atkins could help. Several major studies on the use of the diet by medical professionals for young patients have shown promising results. (1, 2)

References:1. Krebs, N.F., Gao, D., Gralla, J., Collins, J.S., Johnson, S.L., “Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents,"Journal of Pediatrics, 157(2), 2010, pages 252-258.

2. Bailes, J.R., Strow, M.T., Werthammer, J., et al., "Effect of Low-Carbohydrate, Unlimited Calorie Diet on the Treatment of Childhood Obesity: A Prospective Controlled Study," Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, 1(3), 2003, pages 221-225.

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