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Overweight Children and Type 2 Diabetes

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Overweight Children and Type 2 Diabetes

By Nina Nazor

Type 2 diabetes, which was called “adult onset diabetes” some years ago, is no longer affecting adults only. Cases of type 2 diabetes in children are increasing all over the world compared with 10 years ago.

Overweight and obesity in children raise their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and there is a condition related to overweight children that might be a signal that something is wrong.

When I was working with a pediatrician endocrinologist, I saw a lot of parents bringing their children to see the doctor because they were worried about their weight.

A great majority of the children had one thing in common: velvety patches of darkened skin around the neck, under the armpits, along the waistline, in the groin area, and on the knuckles, elbows, and toes.

Usually parents believed that those patches of dark skin were dirt, but then they would learn the truth: their child had a condition known as “Acanthosis nigricans”, which is related to higher than normal insulin levels in the bloodstream. Lets take a look at why this happens.

Children – just like anybody- usually gain weight because they eat more calories than they burn through physical activity. Spending a lot of time watching TV and playing video games does not help at all.

Overweight and obesity cause the body to be insulin resistant, that is, the tissues cannot use insulin adequately. The pancreas senses that problem and releases more insulin causing a condition called hyperinsulinemia or high levels of insulin in the blood.

High insulin levels may raise the child’s appetite making him or her to eat larger portions of food. The pancreas releases insulin after each meal. Since insulin facilitates the storage of fat, this process causes more weight gain.

High insulin levels may also cause the child to grow more rapidly, so he or she looks heavier and taller compared with other children the same age.

When children have this problem, they frequently have high blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as high fasting blood glucose levels, which could lead to type 2 diabetes.

The good news is that by helping the child eat healthy, lose weight and be more physically active, these problems can be resolved and even the dark patches from Acanthosis nigricans might get better.

So, if your child or a child in your family has the mentioned velvety patches of darkened skin, please talk about this with your pediatrician.

Source: a CORE Curriculum for Diabetes Education, 5th Edition. American Association of Diabetes Educators. Book 1:68