Why Do Children Get Diabetes?

With both type I and type II diabetes increasing at an alarming rate in India, it is very important for parents to be aware of the causes. We take a closer look.

By Dr Geetha Ranganathan

Why Do Children Get Diabetes?

Diabetes, a disease in which the glucose or blood sugar levels are higher than normal, is one of the most common lifestyle diseases to affect adults. However, with changing lifestyle trends, the disease is no longer restricted to adults. An increasing number of children in India are also being affected by diabetes. But understanding the types, causes and means of prevention of the disease can surely help address the growing concern of diabetes in younger population.

Type I diabetes

Earlier called Insulin-Dependent diabetes or Juvenile diabetes, Type I diabetes occurs as a result of the pancreas’ inability to produce insulin. Scientists reason that the destruction of these cells may be a result of a genetic predisposition. However it may not be solely due to genes, but possible exposure to a virus as well.

Type II diabetes

Formerly called Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes or Adult-Onset Diabetes, Type II Diabetes is vastly different from Type I Diabetes. Unlike in the case of Type I diabetes, the body can still produce insulin, however it is not enough to meet an individual’s needs. Despite the presence of the insulin making hormone, the child’s blood sugar level may increase. If left untreated, it may lead to blindness, heart disease and kidney failure. The unfortunate fact remains that Type II Diabetes progresses faster in teenagers than in adults.

Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a condition where the blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to diagnose the condition as diabetes. If controlled, prediabetes can delay the onset of type I or type II diabetes.

Causes of diabetes

Hereditary
The chances of a child being diagnosed with diabetes are higher when either or both parents have the condition. In such cases, babies have a higher chance of being born with diabetes or contracting the disease between the ages of 25 to 50. It is also important for women to keep their blood sugar under control when pregnant, as the placenta absorbs sugar and can imbue the foetus with it.

Constant cold
When your body contracts a common ailment like cold, your immune system produces antibodies to fight it, leaving it exhausted. With the antibodies getting consumed to destroy the cold, insulin production goes down, resulting in diabetes.

Viral infections
They can be a trigger for Type I diabetes as they destroy insulin producing cells. However, this is not a common cause of diabetes and occurs only in case of a history of low immunity.

Lack of physical activity 
Little to no physical activity decreases the functioning of the cells that are responsible for insulin production. Consequently, blood sugar levels are affected, leading to diabetes.

Excessive eating
Eating carbohydrates which are easily absorbed by the body and converted into stored fat, like sugar, chocolate, sweets and products that contain starch can increase the load on pancreatic gland. Gradual exhaustion of the insulin cells leads to diabetes.

Symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, urination, hunger, fatigue, blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the feet or hands, sores that do not heal, and unexplained weight loss. Symptoms of type I diabetes are easily observed whereas those of type II diabetes often develop over a period of time. People with Type II diabetes do not learn that they have the disease until diabetes-related health problems, such as blurred vision or heart trouble, develop.

Prevention

Babies who are bottle fed soon after birth are more prone to contracting diabetes as, readymade formula contains a cow’s milk protein that affects the normal functioning of the pancreas. Breast milk has nutrients that protect your baby from the possibility of early diabetes and improves the immune system.

Preventive measures also include defining risk groups, like members in the family that have diabetes, disorder of metabolism in a child and obesity. Children that fall into these categories need be referred to an endocrinologist and undergo an examination twice a year. If the disease is diagnosed, dispensary observation and monthly examination by a child’s endocrinologist is prescribed.

Nutrition tips for diabetic children

Diabetes can be controlled with periodic insulin induction as per the doctor’s advice, capping the intake of certain foods and ensuring physical activity for overall good health and normal growth of the child.

To keep blood sugar levels under control, carbohydrate intake needs to be commensurate with insulin levels. Parents need to ensure that kids consume lipids (like cholesterol and triglycerides) along with snacks such as raw fruits, vegetables, baked chips/snacks. Dairy products such as low-fat yoghurt,string cheese and such, which contain no added sugar, are also ideal for maintaining their blood glucose levels.

Dr Geetha Ranganathan, Head, Corporate & wellness, Metropolis Healthcare, Chennai