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The incidence of diabetes is rising in both children and adults.  Overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and poor food choices are responsible for the rising tide of type 2 diabetes, where resistance to the action of insulin leads to increasing blood sugar levels.  Symptoms include frequent and profuse urination, nocturnal urination and sometimes incontinence, fatigue, and blurred vision.  A child with one or more of these symptoms should immediately be tested for blood sugar or sugar in the urine.

According to a recent Time Magazine article, 19% of 6-11 year-old children are obese, as are17% of 12-19 year-old children, and 14% of 2-5 year-old children.  Fully 1/3 of children are overweight.  This leads to a rising tide of diabetes in children.

Yet we have more to worry about, because juvenile diabetes, also known as type 1 diabetes, in children is on the rise.  A study in Finland revealed that the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children doubled from 1980 to 2005, and is expected to double again in the next 15 years.  Symptoms are the same as in type 2 diabetes, though they are more severe and are accompanied by rapid weight loss.  Type 1 diabetes is considered a different disease, caused by insulin deficiency due to immune destruction of the pancreas.  Viral infections in genetically susceptible children were believed to be the cause.

Vitamin D is protective against type 1 diabetes.  Pregnant women who take vitamin D supplements, in cod liver oil or other form, reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes in their children by over 50%.  Infants given vitamin D supplements also reduce their risk of type 1 diabetes by over 50%.

Newer studies blur the distinction between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. They incriminate excess weight and improper eating habits in both diseases.  High birthweight and early weight gain in infancy increase the risk for type 1 diabetes.  Also, children who develop type 1 diabetes have an increased growth rate several years before the diagnosis.  Some experts believe that increased body mass accelerates the autoimmune attack by overloading the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.  The more insulin produced, the greater the stimulus to immune destruction.  This is called the accelerator hypothesis.  It is supported by the fact that overweight and obesity in Finnish children have doubled in the last 25 years.

It seems that excess weight promotes both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and that both diseases can be reduced and prevented in children with proper dietary choices: for the mother during pregnancy, and for the child.  The children of women with gestational diabetes are at increased risk of diabetes later in life.  Gestational diabetes is rising, and now affects 5% of pregnancies.  Worldwide, there are 400 million obese adults, and 250 million adults with diabetes.  Both statistics are rising rapidly.

Address the problem by restricting the intake of sugar, bread and everything else made from flour, soft drinks, and starches such as corn, potatoes, and rice.  There is evidence that introduction of root vegetables (potatoes and carrots) to children 3-4 months of age increases their risk of developing type 1 diabetes.  Support breast-feeding, food choices of whole fruits and non-root vegetables, lean meat, chicken and fish, and vitamin and mineral supplements, especially vitamin D.

Allan Sosin, M.D.

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