One consequence of the child obesity epidemic is skyrocketing rates of diabetes. The number of children taking medications for obesity-related diabetes has increased as much as 147% in just a few years. (Szabo, 11-3-2008) “Adult-onset” of type 2 diabetes now strikes about 3,700 children a year in the U.S. (Kotz, 2009), and is rapidly rising. If the current trends continue, nearly 1 in 3 kids born in 2000 (and 1 in 2 among minorities) will develop type 2 diabetes sometime within their lifetime. (Kalb, 2010)

The health and medical risk from diabetes

Diabetes has grown so common that it’s easy to forget just how serious of a condition it is. Type 2 diabetes is a disease linked to heart attack, stroke, blindness, limb amputation, and kidney disease. It’s the most common cause of blindness in the Western world, and the younger you get it, the younger you’ll have complications. (Brophy-Marcus, 6-23-2011) Because of our current obesity trends, “We are already seeing some 20- and 25-year-old kids now on dialysis for kidney failure,” says Rebecca Lipton, associate professor in pediatric endocrinology at the University of Chicago. “It’s chilling.” (Marcus, 6-22-2009)

A recent study found that diabetes will shorten a person’s life span by an average of 17 years for men, and 18 years for women if they develop the disease at age 20. If diagnosed at 30, this drops slightly to 14.5 years of life lost for men, 16.5 years for women. (Brophy-Marcus, 6-23-2011) The general trend found in the study was that the younger someone developed the disease, the more their life was shortened. For those kids who are developing type-2 diabetes in grade school or just beyond, the loss of life may be even more extreme.

The lowered quality of life among children with diabetes
In addition to the medical risks posed by diabetes, this saddles a child with significant medical costs and the burden of a daily drug regimen. “These are not antibiotics that they take for seven to 10 days,” says Emily Cox, senior director of research with Express Scripts. “These are drugs that many are taking for the rest of their lives.” She adds: “We’ve got a lot of sick children.” (Szabo, 11-3-2008)

The annual medical cost for diabetes is around $1,744 for undiagnosed diabetes, $6,649 for diagnosed diabetes, and $443 for pre-diabetes. (Hammond & Levine, 2010)

Of course, medicine is only one aspect of diabetes. The condition also has to be managed, and this requires constant vigilance. Children must prick themselves with needles on a daily basis to monitor blood sugar. It also means significant adjustments to a child’s life in terms of what they can eat and what they can do. It requires lugging around emergency snacks and medication.

Managing the condition can be hard, and as a result, many youth do a poor job of it. One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine assessed different ways of managing blood sugar in teens. They found that nearly half of those adolescents newly diagnosed with type-2 diabetes (the kind caused by obesity) failed in this regard within a few years, and one in 5 kids suffered serious complications because of it. The only solution to this problem is “don’t get diabetes in the first place,” says Phil Zeitler, a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver and lead author of the study.  0(Bacon, 4-30-2012)

In summary, diabetes is a condition that substantially decreases a child’s overall quality of life. The fact that so many kids are developing this debilitating condition in elementary school, and that 1 in 3 kids born since the year 2000 can expect to develop it sometime in their lifetime, is nothing short of horrific.

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