Children’s Day coinciding with Diabetes Day now has an ominous ring to it. One in every four children under 18 being diagnosed with diabetes in urban India has type-2 diabetes, which typically affects only adults in their 50s and 60s and is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
Five years ago, adult-onset diabetes affected one in 10 children diagnosed with the disease, while almost no cases were reported a decade ago, according to clinical data from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
The trend is worrying, given that affected children are at a risk of diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, eye problems, nerve damage, etc by the time they are in their 30s or 40s.
Experts blame obesity and widening waistlines, fuelled by easy availability of junk food and a sharp rise in the time children spend online instead of outdoors.
“95% of those diagnosed (with type-2 diabetes) are overweight or obese, the 5% with normal weight have abdominal fat and high body fat percentage” says Dr Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis C-DOC network centre for diabetes, obesity and cholesterol.
"Since type-1 disease has not gone up, modifiable lifestyle factors are the only reason for rising diabetes in children. Type-2 diabetes can be reversed by increasing activity and losing weight," says Dr Misra.
Diabetes affects 50.8 million adults in India. There are no absolute numbers for children affected. "A healthy lifestyle can delay onset of the disease," says Dr Ambrish Mithal, chairman, endocrinology and diabetes, Medanta, where 18% of the 300 children diagnosed had type-2 diabetes.
In urban India, 15-35% children are overweight or obese. "A large waist sizes, irrespective of general weight, is also a risk factor," says Dr Misra, who has also published waist circumference cut-offs for children.