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Type 2 Diabetes Among Children Becoming 'Epidemic'

By Diane Lore

THURSDAY October 19: (Cox News Service) —  Type 2 diabetes has historically been a grown-up disease - something that doesn't strike until a person is well into adulthood and is often a result of obesity.

But the disease, formerly known as ``adult onset diabetes,'' is now cropping up in children at ``epidemic proportions,'' according to the American Diabetes Association - pointing up the rise in childhood obesity.

Children traditionally are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, caused by a defect in the immune system that blocks the body's ability to produce insulin, requiring patients to have insulin shots. Type 2 diabetes is the result of the body's gradual resistance to insulin, often due to family history and chronically bad health habits - such as a high-fat diet and inactivity.

Now experts believe children are falling victim to the same bad health habits striking more people - especially younger adults. A study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed diabetes increased 33 percent nationally.

And although that study did not track people younger than 18, other research shows the number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has tripled in the past five years.

And in some states - especially ones with a high Hispanic and Native American population - physicians are reporting that they are diagnosing a type 2 childhood case of diabetes for every traditional type 1 case, according to the CDC.

``It's a real problem,'' said Dr. Darwin Brown, an Atlanta specialist in diabetes and endocrinology. ``And it's not one that's going to go away.''

Brown has at least four teens in his practice with type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that in many cases, parents can help protect their children from the chronic disease through prevention, since being overweight is a hallmark of pediatric type 2 diabetes.

``It's no longer a cosmetic issue,'' said Dr. Frank Vinicor, director of the CDC's division of diabetes. ``It's an issue of health. We can't stress that to parents enough.''

It's estimated that more than 4.5 million kids - or 11 percent of youngsters ages 6 to 17 - are now clinically obese, according to the latest government studies. To combat that, experts say parents must get more involved in their children's lives, cutting down on the junk food and increasing activity. For example:

- University of Pennsylvania researchers found kids spend an average of 4.5 hours a day staring at a video screen. Experts say parents should pull the cord, or at least limit computer and television time, so kids can do what parents have been telling them since the beginning of time: Go outside and play.

- Studies have found that kids in active households, where parents and children play together, have less problems with obesity in childhood and adulthood. Play a pick-up game of basketball instead of picking up that bowl of potato chips, or play baseball instead of watching the Braves on television.

- Clean out the junk food. Dump the candy and chips and cheese doodles. Stock up with fresh carrot sticks, dips, raisin boxes (every small raisin box is considered a serving of fruit) and yogurt. Keep them where the kids can reach them. Ask - and give - children the healthful foods they like.

- Make sure your children's lifestyles are meeting minimum federal guidelines: five servings of fruits and vegetables and 30 minutes of exercise a day.

And how do you know if your child is diabetic? Vinicor says parents should see a doctor if their child seems to have a general lack of energy, a never-ending thirst and/or experiences a gradual slide in school performance, which could be due to blurred vision, a side effect of the disease.