Alabama has one of the highest rate of Diabetes in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Diabetes occurs when a person’s blood glucose levels are too high. The hormone insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, helps the body properly process glucose. People with diabetes either do not make enough insulin or their bodies do not utilize it properly. There are two major types of diabetes (type 1 and 2). Type 2 diabetes is the most common form—approximately 90-95 percent of all cases of diabetes are type 2. Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of diabetes because it can cause insulin resistance. In addition, type 2 diabetes affects kids and teens as well as adults, mainly because of childhood obesity.
One in six children and teenagers in the United States are obese or overweight. This statistic puts many America’s children at early risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke – conditions usually associated with adulthood. Dr. Rian Anglin, a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of Auburn, offers some practical advice about how to make simple lifestyle adjustments to improve your child’s health. “Diet is the most important thing for maintaining a healthy weight in a child, not exercise,” Anglin says. “Our society has put an emphasis on being physically active, which is important to maintain a child’s overall health, but it’s what you put into your body that is important, particularly for weight maintenance. Parents should help children maintain a well-balanced diet focusing mainly on whole foods, which includes high volumes of fresh fruit and veggies, fresh meats, and very limited processed foods.”
“If you have a child who is overweight, it is very emotionally draining and overwhelming,” Anglin says. “The parent is the role model for the child and their nutrition affects their child’s. I don’t ask my kids to do things that I don’t ask of the whole family. Healthy eating is a lifestyle change for the entire family. Making a few small changes can have a very big impact over time on your child’s physical and emotional health.”
One mother in Auburn found that by making simple changes in her family’s lifestyle, it had a big impact on her child’s health. Her 13-yearold son is a client of Allison Drake, RD, LD, a diabetes clinician at the Diabetes and Nutrition Center.
“We see cases like his often,” Drake says. “He drank a lot of sugary beverages, which includes beverages that have natural sugar, such as juices. Eliminating those types of drinks is typically the first thing we normally try to tackle with patients. I gave him some different options. Water is obviously the best option, but Crystal Light or something similar, in moderation, can help kids transition from drinking many sugary drinks to only water. That was a simple fix that the patient was able to implement by himself.”
Drake explains that she taught the middle schooler and his mom about portions. Instead of discussing the traditional food pyramid, she focused on a plate, and on portion sizes. Meat was taking up half or more of his plate, and it should only take up about 25 percent of the plate. They also discussed increasing the fruit and veggie amounts he eats each week. Drake gave him ideas and let him pick out some of his favorites.
“My son is 13, and he was on board from the beginning and wanted to improve his health,” the mother explains. “He has learned that he can make small changes, even while eating at restaurants, that improve his health. Something as simple as ordering a baked potato instead of fries, or grilled chicken instead of fried makes a difference. He’s learning how to build good habits on his own now. Our dietitian was a great resource even in the few meetings we have had with her. My son has built confidence and we’ve both learned so much about food.”
“Their specific case was great because they put a lot of effort in as a family,” Drake explains. “His mom was really on board from the beginning, and unfortunately, parents are not always committed to make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their child’s health.
“Typically, we don’t look for weight loss in adolescents who are still growing, but our goal is to help stop the weight gain and work from there. This particular patient was great because he actually did begin to lose weight.
“5-4-3-2-1 Go!R is a great guideline for families to follow and I recommend it for a lot of our patients,” Drake says. The plan is adapted from the website www.livewellomahakids.org: 5- Servings of fruits and veggies a day 4- Glasses of water 3- Servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy 2- Hours of screen time or less a day 1-Hour or more of physical activity a day
Dr. Anglin recommends not focusing on specific diets. “Words like ‘diet’ and ‘overweight’ have such negative connotations and it stinks to tell your kid ‘no’ all the time,” Anglin says. “Telling your children they can’t have this or that is exhausting. Find things you can say ‘yes’ to. ‘Yes’ to water, ‘yes’ to fruit, ‘yes you can have one processed snack per week.’ Find things to be positive about and ways to allow kids to be happy about food, in a healthy way.”