Overweight and obese children are at risk for pre-diabetes

Healthy eating and exercise are key to avoiding diabetes in children.

Children in a row hopping over a ladder on a field.
Physical activity can help prevent type II diabetes in youth diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

Michigan State University Extension educators are noting an increase in the reports of children and adolescents being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, which when left untreated leads to the development of type II diabetes. The condition is considered to be widespread among the U.S. adolescent population, according to “The Diagnosis of Prediabetes in Adolescents,” a study reported in the Journal of Medical Biochemistry in Jan. 2015.

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood glucose level is higher than it should be, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Children who don’t get enough physical activity, are overweight, have a parent or other close relative with type II diabetes or are American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander are at highest risk of developing type II diabetes.

If your child fits one or more of these categories or has been diagnosed as having pre-diabetes, steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of type II diabetes. For both children and adults, research has shown that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will reduce the risk. Equally important is regular physical activity and eating healthy foods.

Although losing weight is a challenge for many adults and youth, since being overweight or obese are risk factors for diabetes, there may be increased motivation to reach and maintain a healthy weight. One way to reach this goal is to increase physical activity.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children should aim for 60 minutes of physical activity each day, but it does not have to be all at one time. Twenty minutes at a time, three times a day will work. Bike riding, playing ball, running, walking and dancing are all activities that will help children live a healthy life. If this seems like a lot for your child, small steps are okay. Any amount of activity that is more than what he or she is currently doing will help. Once the habit to exercise is in place, the time spent can be gradually increased. If a child is overweight, parents should check with their family doctor before the child starts a physical activity program.

Focusing on eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods will also help children lose weight. A study reported in the Journal of Clinical Endrocrinology & Metabolism found lower vitamin D levels is associated with risk for type II diabetes in obese children. This research corresponds with other studies that have found that lower levels of vitamin D and calcium may play a role in the development of type II diabetes in adults. According to Michelle Hutchison of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the children with the lowest levels of vitamin D in their blood were also the children that were at the highest risk of having pre-diabetes.

Including nutrient-dense food into you or your child’s diet is not difficult. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Choose MyPlate suggests that half of your plate be filled with fruits and vegetables and any grains you consume should be whole grains like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and brown rice. Rather than sugary drinks, choose fat-free or low-fat milk or water. Lean protein, such as fish, lean meats, beans and nuts are good choices. Sweets should be eaten as occasional treats. Small changes like this along with increased physical activity will help any child or adult lose weight.

Did you find this article useful?