Your child could be diabetic. Watch out for the causes, symptoms to fight the disease

Hindustan Times | By
Jan 06, 2018 09:23 AM IST

More and more Indian kids are being diagnosed with diabetes. This is what doctors have to say about its causes, and how to prevent it.

Attention parents: If you thought diabetes is a disease that afflicts only the grown-ups, get ready for a rude shock. Doctors say there is a definitive spike in the number of cases where children are being diagnosed with the lifestyle disease in India. It is an alarming situation considering the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) youth diabetes registry figures which suggest that one in every four (25.3%) Indian under the age of 25 has adult-onset type-2 diabetes. Already called the diabetes capital of the world, and with more than 69.2 million patients, a generation of new patients being added to the casualty list will only make the epidemic difficult to eradicate. There is another worrying data: According to the Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation, diabetes emerged as India’s seventh biggest cause of early death in 2016, up from 11th in 2005.

Early detection of diabetes is important, say doctors.(Shutterstock)
Early detection of diabetes is important, say doctors.(Shutterstock)

Says Dr Mihir Raut, diabetologist, Nanavati Super Specialty Hospital, Mumbai, “There has certainly been a substantial rise in the number of Indian children with diabetes. Earlier, we would see children with type-1 diabetes, but nowadays, they also have type-2 diabetes, which is usually seen in middle aged and old people.”

In type-1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. A hormone, insulin is needed to allow blood sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. In type-2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or it resists insulin. It basically affects the way the body processes glucose.

The main causes

As diabetes is influenced by genetic markers, genes do play a part but the main culprit here is a sedentary lifestyle. All over the world, there’s been an obesity endemic, and children aren’t spared either. And Indian kids aren’t far behind. “Children these days are not engaged in enough physical activities. They are more glued to mobile phones (either their own or their parents) and video games. Lack of physical activity is one of the main reasons for developing diabetes,” says Dr Raut.

Junk food contributes to obesity, which can lead to diabetes. (Shutterstock)
Junk food contributes to obesity, which can lead to diabetes. (Shutterstock)

The second main factor is excess consumption of junk food such as pizzas, burgers and fries. Undoubtedly, processed and fast food is easily available today. “Parents today often don’t have enough time to cook or arrange for healthy, home-made food. They also give children junk food as a way of making up for the lack of time spent with them,” says Dr Raut.

It’s also observed that children themselves are too busy with tuition and studies. Space being a premium in metro cities, schools often don’t have large playgrounds or any playgrounds at all. This leaves kids with little option to engage in sports or physically reinvigorating activities. Dr Shaival Chandalia, diabetologist and endocrinologist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai, says, “In order to prevent children from becoming obese, schools and parents must be educated on the perils of an unhealthy diet. Parents should try to set a good diet right from an early age because it’s difficult to break that pattern later on.”

Speaking of parent’s efforts, Delhi-based Rahul Verma has been championing for the ban of sale of junk foods in and near schools. His fight began after his son was born gravely ill with severe digestive problems. Multiple visits to the doctor followed and he came across a case where a girl had put on excess weight by consistent overeating of chips. Surely, Verma felt, such cases are preventable. While his petition is still up for the court’s consideration, parents don’t have to wait to make the sensible choice when it comes to diet.

Symptoms to watch out for

The age group most vulnerable to type-1 diabetes is below 6-7 years, while for type-2, it can be as early as 12 to 17. Type-2 diabetes usually occurs around puberty. Parents should be alert for any signs of diabetes.

If the child is losing weight suddenly, that’s a cause for concern. “If your child was actively into sports, but suddenly loses interest or gets tired easily, watch out. Also, patients of type-1 diabetes are often lean. And their parents may not be diabetic either,” says Dr Raut. Other symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, increased frequency of urination, and fungal infection in the urinary area. “In type-2 diabetes, skin often gets discoloured. That’s a sign of insulin resistance,” says Dr Chandalia.

Make sure your child gets enough physical activity and is not glued to a computer often. (Shutterstock)
Make sure your child gets enough physical activity and is not glued to a computer often. (Shutterstock)

“Parents should address small complains as soon as possible. Also, parents don’t accept that their child is obese; instead calling it ‘baby fat’ or saying the child is ‘on the healthier side’. But that is just putting your child in danger,” says Dr Raut.

Prevention goes a long way

He adds, “Most cases of childhood diabetes get diagnosed late. Early detection is important in managing diabetes. Parents should ask their doctors if any tests are needed for their children. A simple glucometer test can be done even by your general physician. You don’t need to go to a big hospital or a specialised lab.”

It’s important to prevent and manage diabetes, as it can lead to many other complications at a later stage. As the child grows up, he/she is at increased risk of cardiovascular problems, kidney trouble and eye problems. “If blood sugar is not controlled, it can affect nerves too,” says Dr Chandalia.

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