Diabetes in Children and Adolescents

Approximately 1 in 4 children and adolescents has diabetes and this number appears to be increasing. Classically, type 1 diabetes has been the primary diabetes in children/adolescents; however, due to the growing epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes is becoming much more prevalent in both children and adolescents. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the β cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone in our body that helps to break down the carbohydrates we eat and assist us in using them for energy. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either produces too little insulin or our cells do not appropriately utilize the insulin (referred to as insulin resistance). In children/adolescents, type 2 diabetes is most prevalent in those who are overweight and physically inactive.

Medications for each type of diabetes may differ; however, the overall concept of treatment is very similar. Blood sugar should be frequently checked throughout the day (>3 times daily) to prevent future health complications associated with high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Since type 1 diabetics do no produce any insulin, insulin administration is required. Type 2 diabetics may use exclusively oral medications (depending upon age), insulin administration, or a combination of the two therapies, as determined by an Endocrinologist.

Regardless of the type of diabetes, a carbohydrate consistent diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products is recommended.

Carbohydrate-containing foods include:

  • grains
  • fruit
  • some dairy products (milk and yogurt)
  • certain vegetables (starchy ones like beans, peas, corn, potatoes)
  • many snack foods (pretzels, chips, popcorn)
  • sweets (desserts and sugar-containing beverages).

Typically, families are taught how to count carbohydrates through reading food labels and measuring food portions.

A serving of carbohydrates contain 15 grams of carbohydrates and specific portions differ depending upon the food item.

A carbohydrate consistent diet encourages a similar amount of carbohydrates to be consumed at each meal to prevent wide variations in blood sugars. Since children’s nutritional needs change as they grow, a Registered Dietitian can provide an individualized diet plan upon diagnosis to ensure adequate calories and protein will be provided to promote adequate growth.

By Shelley Carlson, MS, RD, LD

References:

American Diabetes Association website. http://www.diabetes.org/?loc=logo. Accessed July 15, 2012.

American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2012;35: S11-S63

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