Did you know that diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases among children? According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, research suggests that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are increasing worldwide in youth.

Dr. Shazhan Amed is a pediatric endocrinologist at B.C. Children’s Hospital and a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Amed says 25 years ago, type 2 was called “adult onset diabetes,” and cases in kids were virtually unheard of. Now there are at least 113 new cases of type 2 diabetes each year in Canada.

What’s type 1 diabetes and is it preventable?

Type 1 diabetes happens when the body is no longer able to make insulin because the immune system has destroyed the cells that make it.

It’s not preventable and being overweight or inactive doesn’t cause it. It’s often treated with insulin injections, along with a healthy diet low in carbohydrates, and exercise.

What’s type 2 diabetes and is it preventable?

Type 2 diabetes happens when the pancreas fails to produce insulin or the body does not process the hormone effectively. But unlike type 1 diabetes, there are ways to prevent type 2 diabetes before it sets in.

It’s important to note that obesity is the biggest contributor to the disease. People can develop type 2 diabetes through an unhealthy body weight and inactivity. (However, genes and other hereditary factors can play a part.)

In Canada, 30% of kids are obese or overweight, says Amed. And, 95% of kids diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight.

“But obesity is preventable,” says Amed. “Therefore, type 2 is a preventable condition.”

Is your child at risk for type 2 diabetes?

Your child may be at risk if he or she:

  • Consumes an unhealthy diet filled with sugary snacks, processed foods, high-fat foods and sugary drinks like juice and pop.
  • Follows a sedentary, inactive lifestyle. "88% of kids aren’t getting the 60 minutes of activity a day recommended by Health Canada,” says Amed.
  • Spends too much time in front of a screen – whether it’s TV, computer or video games.
  • Has a strong genetic link, such as a mother or father with the disease.
  • Has a skin condition called acanthosis nigricans (dark, velvety patches in skin folds) or polycystic ovarian syndrome (which can cause excess weight gain).

Diabetes prevention: Healthy habits to teach your kids

Modelling healthy behaviour is essential in teaching kids about proper eating and exercise, says Amed. So set an example by choosing healthier habits for yourself as well as your kids.

Other tactics include:

  1. Don’t talk about dieting. “We don’t want to induce disordered eating in children,” says Amed. Instead, offer cut-up veggies and fruit instead of chips, pastries and sweets. But if you do suspect your child is overweight, take them to see a doctor.
  2. Skip the juice and pop. These drinks can contain 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Stick to water instead.
  3. Add exercise into your family’s daily routine. You can do this through walks, playing tag in a schoolyard, riding a bike, raking leaves, etc.
  4. Limit screen time by treating it as a reward for good health habits.

Stop prediabetes from becoming type 2 diabetes

In addition to type 2 diabetes being preventable, there are also ways to prevent prediabetes.

Prediabetes happens when blood glucose is abnormally high, but not quite at the diabetic level. It can be reversible in some cases. Amed even cites one study in which obese kids diagnosed as pre-diabetic lost weight and exercised, reducing their blood sugar levels to normal.

What can you do to prevent prediabetes or stop it from becoming type 2 diabetes? It all goes back to following the basics of a healthy lifestyle. Here are 4 tips to prevent prediabetes.

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