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Kids & Diabetes

Dear Debi:
Diabetes is prevalent in my family. My 4-year-old daughter likes to eat sweets such as fruit snacks. Will eating a lot of sweets increase her chances of developing diabetes?
Dezarae Albert
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Warning signs: unusual thirst & hunger, frequent urination, and sudden weight loss for no reason
  • Type 2 diabetes is difficult to detect
  • Overweight and sedentary kids are at higher risk
  • Prevention: increase physical activity
  • Get regular check ups & check child’s blood sugar levels
Expert Advice
Dr. Francine Kaufman
Dr. Francine Kaufman
Pediatrician, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Diabetes is a disorder of blood sugar regulation due to either insulin deficiency (called “Type 1” diabetes) or insulin resistance (called “Type 2” diabetes). Insulin is the key hormone that regulates the entry of sugar into the cells where it can serve as cellular fuel.

Type 1 diabetes occurs in children and adults of all ages, but the peak age of diagnosis is 12 years. Type 1 requires insulin treatment. Type 2 diabetes also occurs in children, but it mainly appears in adolescents and adults. Type 2 is increasing the most in young adults, and the older you are, the greater the risk. Type 2 diabetes is related to obesity and can be treated with oral agents that lower the blood sugar through a variety of mechanisms. Eventually, however, someone with Type 2 will likely require insulin in addition to his or her pills.

Genes are involved in both type of diabetes, although these genes are different for the two types. Genes in combination with certain environmental factors – such as becoming overweight, eating foods high in fat and sugar – can trigger Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 can be caused by a combination of genes and being exposed to viruses or perhaps some dietary triggers. Keep in mind that kids can still get diabetes even if there is no family history. Multiple genes are required and parents may each only have some genes, or might not have been exposed to sufficient environmental stimuli to trigger diabetes.

Diabetes symptoms result from an elevated blood sugar level. Symptoms may include: frequent urination, unusual thirst and hunger, weight loss, fatigue, sores that don’t heal, and blurry vision. People with Type 1 can develop diabetic ketoacidosis which is potentially a life-threatening disease that results in the build up of acids in the blood. These acids cause tremendous metabolic disturbance that changes the level of consciousness and can lead to coma and even death.

Due to the obesity epidemic, we are seeing an increase in the number of children with Type 2 diabetes. To prevent obesity and the possibility of diabetes, parents and child care providers should feed children properly from their first day of life. Breast feeding is helpful in preventing diabetes. Don’t use food as a reward or punishment. Give children plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Let young children self-regulate their intake of food, but don’t let children drink a ton of calories. Limit kids to one glass of juice per day with the rest of their drinks being water or milk (low fat after age 2). Avoid trans fats, saturated fats, and processed sugars. Give children plenty of foods rich in fiber. Finally, reduce kids’ TV time and instead get them physically active.

Children eat about 50% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 30% fat. Be sure these foods come from healthy natural products. Avoid fried foods, but pastas, rice, fruit and vegetables are good in addition to meats and low-fat dairy foods. The important thing to remember is appropriate portion sizes.
Child Care provider Comments
Jennifer Moreno
Jennifer Moreno
Mother of two
I don’t even give my kids juice. If we’re out and everyone else is having juice, I will give my kids watered down juice. From the beginning we’ve never let them eat candy. My philosophy is “out of sight, out of mind.” If they don’t know what they’re missing, then they can’t miss it. A great alternative to fruit snacks are fruit leathers, which are like fruit rolls except they’re all natural and healthy. Dehydrated fruit is another great alternative. Make healthy eating something positive – call them treats.
Estella Callender
Estella Callender
Grandmother of three
My 4-year-old grandson, Allen, has Type 1 diabetes. To help promote a healthier lifestyle, we eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. He can eat almost anything as long as he eats the right portions. We do, however, keep him away from candy and sugary snacks, juices, sodas, etc. At Halloween we take him trick or treating. He knows he really can’t eat the candy but we don’t want to deprive him of the experience. Instead of letting him eat his Halloween candy, we give him a gift certificate to a toy store.
Clarissa August
Clarissa August
Family child care provider for 21 years
I recommend that Dezarae cut down the sweets that her daughter is eating. She could substitute fruit snacks with dried fruit or introduce vegetables with dips. Sometimes it takes being a little more creative with what and how you introduce new foods.

Healthy Food Choices Featured Activity:
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Topic: Health & Safety
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