They used to call it adult-onset diabetes, because it only occurred in adults. Most often caused by obesity, it is now at record levels, affecting almost 26 million Americans.
But it can no longer be called “adult-onset.” In the past 30 years, obesity in American children has almost tripled, to about 12 million.
And now, even more troubling news: A new study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, shows the disease progresses faster and is tougher to treat in children; one major finding was that a standard medication successful for adults often fails with younger patients.
The implications are dire, particularly in big cities like Houston with large minority populations. Not only are Hispanics and African-Americans less likely to have access to basic preventive care, they also have a greater genetic propensity towards diabetes.
Two Baylor College of Medicine researchers, Dr. Siripoom McKay, an assistant professor of pediatrics, and pediatric psychologist Dr. Barbara Anderson, have worked with young patients and their families in the study since 2004.
They agree that prevention is the goal, and that two major lifestyle changes, weight control and physical activity, are key to achieving that goal — no easy task. Many factors contribute to obesity, especially in today’s fast-food, sugar-laden environment.
“It’s an enormous concern,” McKay told the Houston Chronicle, “especially as these kids reach child-bearing age. Their children will be even more susceptible.”
“It’s a public health issue that needs a public health solution,” Anderson said. “We have a whole population at risk.”
Legislators should take heed. On both the state and national level, health care and social services funding have become fair game in budget squeezes. We can’t afford to ignore this latest threat to our young and vulnerable.