The Galgali family was shocked when they took Niharika, 16, to get treated for dengue in August and was told she had diabetes. “Her blood results showed glucose levels of 400 mg/ dL, when the normal is under 100 mg/dL. They asked if she was diabetic, but we had no idea,” said her father Mukund Galgali, who works with the Delhi government.
She was put on injectable insulin immediately as the doctors suspected type 1-diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, which is common among children. “Three weeks later, we discovered she had type 2-diabetes that usually affects adults in their 40s and 50s, and she was prescribed oral medication,” said Dr Ajay K Ajmani, senior endocrinology consultant at BLK Super Speciality Hospital.
Close to 10% of India’s estimated 65 million people living with diabetes are under the age of 18, which includes 4-5% who have type 1 or juvenile diabetes. “The biggest complication in type1-diabetes is not increased levels of blood glucose but hypoglycaemia caused by the insulin given to the patient for their survival. So it is imperative to eat healthy and stick to the correct insulin doses,” said Dr Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis CDOC Hospital for Diabetes.
Complicating matters further is the obesity epidemic affecting the young. “We are getting more and more children with type 1-diabetes who are overweight, when one of the classic indication of the disease is weight loss. They often show traits of both type 1 and type 2-diabetes,” said Dr Misra.
As in people with adult-onset diabetes, overweight patients with type 1-diabetes also start using insulin inefficiently. “Girls with type 1-diabetes have higher chances of developing polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in which cysts grow on the ovaries and may lead to infertility,” he says.
Adult diabetes in teens
Type 2-diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, is usually triggered by the inactive lifestyles coupled with bad diets, obesity, stress and disrupted sleep. “Lately, more teenagers are being diagnosed with it. Indians develop type 2-diabetes a decade earlier than Caucasians, but even by that yardstick, getting diagnosed in teenage years is unusual,” said Dr SK Wangnoo, head of Apollo Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Endocrinology.
The school syllabi is partly to blame. “The focus on academic scores results in stress and reduces the time for physical activity. Add to this social networking and TV and you have children sitting around all day instead of playing outdoors,” he said. All teens should spend at least an hour playing outdoor sports each day.