Tips for Healthy Eating and Preventing Childhood Diabetes

BY Maria Lopez Conde  June 6, 2012 at 2:44 PM EST

The number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes is on the rise. And the figures are particularly stark for teenagers — nearly tripling in the last decade.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published online in the journal Pediatrics showed that the number of teenagers with higher-than-normal blood glucose levels has increased from 9 percent in 1999-2000 to 23 percent in 2007-8.

That’s particularly significant because most people with pre-diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes. The disease, also known as adult onset diabetes, used to be found mainly in patients over age 45. But recently, the number of teenagers diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has climbed to 3,600 teenagers per year.

And while this trend has closely followed the nation’s weight gain, obesity is only one of the contributing factors. A person’s family history and ethnicity also play a role.

“When you find out that mom and dad have diabetes, you are at an extremely high risk,” explained Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association. “The children who are at high risk are those who come from high-risk ethnic groups. The highest of which are American Indians, African Americans, Hispanic Latinos, and Asian Pacific Islanders.”

There are still many questions as to why these particular groups are at higher risk. “We think it may be due to genetic factors, but those risk factors have not yet been identified,” according to Dr. Barbara Linder, senior adviser for Childhood Diabetes Research at the National Institutes of Health.

However, there are some things parents and children can do to decrease the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes if they’re at risk. We talked to Ratner and Joyce Keady, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Harvard Medical School’s Joslin Diabetes Center, for some tips, which we feature in the slide show above.

Tune in to the PBS NewsHour broadcast on Wednesday evening for health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser’s full report on the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes among the nation’s children and young adults.