Diabetes Epidemic Looming?

diabetes epidemicNew research demonstrates troubling implications of the United States’ soaring childhood obesity rates:  a study found that the length of time a person carries excess weight directly contributes to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. This means that children today have an increased risk of developing diabetes at some point in their lives because they are expected to receive a larger lifetime “dose” of excess weight.  Obesity has long been associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, which is caused by the body gradually losing its ability to use insulin properly to convert blood sugar into fuel. Researchers at the University of Michigan examined the health records of 8,000 teens and young adults and found that those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) categorized as overweight or obese for a longer period of time had a higher risk for diabetes.  An obese person with a BMI of 35 carried over 10 years, for example, could be considered to have the equivalent of 100 years of excess BMI.

Another study found that children’s risk of diabetes can be elevated before they even leave the womb. New research showed that poor maternal diet can put the baby at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other age-related diseases in later life. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Leicester found that in rats and humans, those who experience a poor diet in the womb are less able to store fats correctly in later life. It is important to store fats in the right areas of the body, as otherwise they can accumulate in areas like the liver and muscle and are more likely to lead to disease.  They found that a molecule called miR-483-3p was produced at higher levels in people who had received a poor diet in their mother’s wombs than those who received a healthier diet.  When pregnant rats consumed a diet low in protein, their offspring had higher levels of miR-483-3p, which led to the offspring developing smaller fat cells and diminished their ability to store fats in adulthood. The offspring were less likely to get fat when given a high calorie diet; however, they were at a higher risk of developing diabetes. The researchers also found elevated levels of miR-483-3p in a group of humans who had low birth weights.

So what can be done to reverse this troubling trend?  To begin, children need to adopt healthy habits and skills and work them into their daily routines. They need to be shown by example and taught to choose healthy foods and to avoid fatty, sugar-packed or heavily processed foods.  Additionally, children need to become more physically active, as exercise has been shown to fight obesity and help better control blood glucose levels in the body. Experts advise that these two things alone would probably solve the problem of childhood obesity, were society to pursue them vigorously.

Dr. Gerardo Carcamo, expert bariatric surgeon in San Antonio, commented on the article. He said:  “Once again we see confirmatory data that shows a poor diet in pregnancy can lead to higher risk of obesity in children.  Our path in life is influenced in the womb and the data clearly shows that having a healthier mom can lead to a healthier child.  Childhood obesity will continue as long as we neglect to influence the choices of women of childbearing age.  I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion in this article.  We must emphasize good eating behavior and daily physical activity in our children or else we as a society will pay the price,” Carcamo concluded.

Related Reading

A 2011 study found that teenage boys who are overweight – even just slightly overweight – are at an increased risk of heart disease later in life. You can read about the study here.

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