My beloved grandmother, Amelia, lived in a log cabin with an outhouse, a wood stove (for cooking and heat), and a pump to get water. Everyone loved coming to visit her, and she always prepared a meal or offered a snack. She had 10 children and many, many grandchildren, of which I was the youngest.
As a child I was fascinated by my grandmother’s dinner-time routine. She would check her blood sugar, draw up her insulin, and inject her belly. She swore to me that it did not hurt her, but I felt a little uneasy watching the process. She did not, however, correctly manage her diet. This left her diabetes poorly controlled.
Over time it took her sight and eventually took her life. Her life became an important health lesson for me.
Diabetes is a group of serious disorders which results in too much sugar in the blood (high blood sugar). The food you eat is converted into glucose, which is a source of energy. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas which carries the glucose into the cells for energy. If the body does not make enough, or any, insulin, then the sugar stays in the blood and cannot reach the cells, resulting in high blood sugar.
Over 34 million Americans have diabetes and 1 in 5 does not even know it. In the last 20 years the number of diagnosed diabetics has doubled. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. There are various types of diabetes including Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes (which affects pregnant women).
In Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. This often occurs in children or young adults. It makes up only 5-10 percent of total diabetic cases. There are 1.6 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, including 187,000 children.
Most diabetics have Type 2 diabetes which affects the way the body processes sugar (glucose). 90-95 percent of diabetes are Type II. There has been an increase in Type 2 diabetes in children due in part to the increase in pediatric obesity. One in three children in the U. S. is overweight, and it is thought that a third of those children are obese.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes in children include increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss (without trying), fatigue, and increased hunger. This may present as bedwetting in a previously potty-trained child. It is important to recognize these issues early, as uncontrolled diabetes is a medical emergency in a child. Be sure to have these symptoms urgently evaluated.
There is no cure (yet) for diabetes; however, the disease can be managed. Children with diabetes can lead a normal and full life IF their diabetes is controlled.Children with diabetes need to check and monitor their blood sugar regularly, take insulin or other medication, and proactively manage their diet and exercise.
Diabetes runs in my family, which is true for many families. There are things that can be done to mitigate the risk of becoming diabetic. Maintain a healthy weight. Drink more water and avoid sugary drinks. Eat more fruits and vegetables: strive for five daily. Eat meals together as a family at the table with the TV off. Slow the pace of mealtime: take at least 20 minutes for a meal. Do not force kids to clean their plates. Use smaller plates and smaller portions. Exercise for an hour a day. Limit screen time to less than 2 hours daily. Read labels and shop on a full stomach.
Diabetes is a serious disease, but one that can be controlled and managed. Diabetics live full and rewarding lives. If you are concerned about your child’s health, see your pediatric healthcare provider.