Overweight in children, diabetes at the turn

Type 2 diabetes follows the curve of obesity like its shadow, in children as well as in adults. And not surprisingly, the meteoric rise in childhood obesity has major implications for the health of young people, in particular the early onset of type 2 diabetes. This is a worrying problem that can nevertheless be prevented thanks to adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes is probably the best illustration of the health problems that come from being overweight. This type of diabetes was until very recently considered an adult disease: before 1990, it was indeed extremely rare to diagnose type 2 diabetes in a child or adolescent.

With the spectacular increase in childhood obesity observed over the past 25 years, this disease has unfortunately become more frequent among young people, which can, in the medium term, have serious consequences for their health: retinopathy (loss of vision ), nerve damage, kidney failure, amputation of limbs and cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke). Diabetes caused by childhood overweight and obesity is therefore a serious medical problem, which can have major repercussions on the quality and life expectancy of the young generation.

Childhood diabetes, very difficult to contain

Type 2 diabetes is a very difficult disease to treat. In children and adolescents, the situation is even more worrying: the disease seems to progress more rapidly than in adults. Indeed, several data indicate that young diabetics respond less well to standard treatments, possibly due to the significant hormonal changes that accompany puberty and which would affect the response to medication. The therapeutic challenge posed by infantile type 2 diabetes is well illustrated by a study whose objective was to determine the pharmacological treatments best able to control the disease. For four years, the researchers followed 700 children aged 10 to 17 who were overweight and had type 2 diabetes, and who were treated using three different approaches:

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  • treatment with metformin, a first-line anti-diabetic drug;
  • metformin in combination with another antidiabetic, rosiglitazone; and
  • metformin associated with lifestyle changes (diet, regular exercise and weight loss).
  • The results obtained are very disappointing: while these approaches work relatively well in adults, they fail to adequately normalize blood sugar levels in young people. About half of patients treated under either of these scenarios continue to have blood sugar levels that are too high, so daily insulin injection should be considered to prevent their situation from getting worse. .

    Diabetes can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle

    The problem posed by type 2 diabetes in children is a good illustration of the wise saying “prevention is better than cure”. And such prevention is quite possible! It is estimated that almost 90% of cases of diabetes could be eliminated simply by making certain lifestyle changes, mainly by maintaining a normal body weight, favoring dietary sources of complex sugars such as whole grains, and adopting a active lifestyle, based on regular physical exercise. Raising children isn’t just about making sure they develop their intelligence to the best of their abilities; it’s also about making them aware that maintaining a normal body weight is an essential facet of a long and healthy life.

    (1) TODAY Study Group. A clinical trial to maintain glycemic control in youth with type 2 diabetes. N Engl J Med, published online April 29, 2012.


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