Diabetes tops child obesity's health risks

February 22, 2010

Children who weigh too much face a broad array of health problems, with type 2 diabetes leading the list.

Closely linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes was once so rare among children that it was called adult onset diabetes. But physicians on the medical staff at Children’s, like their colleagues nationwide, are seeing “more 12- and 13-year-olds with type 2 diabetes than you can imagine,” commented Dr. Jon Oden, a pediatric medicine specialist in pediatric endocrinology and an assistant professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at UT Southwestern.

Doctors estimate 70 percent of overweight kids will grow up to be overweight adults. Once they’ve been too heavy for too many years, they’re at risk for diseases that doctors usually see in people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. “We'll be treating them when they’re in their mid-30s,” Dr. Oden said. “When these kids grow up and into their most productive years, many of them will be on disability from their diabetes and the many diseases that accompany diabetes,” he explained.

Other diseases tied to obesity include high blood pressure, liver disease, high cholesterol and heart disease. “Although clinical heart disease has not been documented in children, the risk of developing the problem earlier than ever before is becoming quite real,” Oden noted.

Diabetes care team

Having a child with diabetes can be overwhelming. Fortunately, a team of experts can guide you now and in the years to come. While the core of the care team is the family, your child may see the following specialists.

  • A diabetes specialist, pediatrician or general practitioner who has experience caring for people with diabetes.
  • A certified diabetes educators trained to help you and your child learn about diabetes and make adjustments in care.
  • Dietitians who can help you and your child create a healthful eating plan.
  • Mental health professionals such as a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker, who can help your child cope with diabetes.
  • Ophthalmologists who should check your child’s eyes three to five years after diagnosis and regularly thereafter.
  • A pharmacist can help you choose the diabetes supplies that are right for your child.