If your child, other family member or a friend has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, you may have a lot of questions about what that really means. There are a lot of misconceptions about diabetes and it can be difficult to tell the facts from the fiction.
Debunking the Myths
Physicians at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine frequently hear some of these common myths:
Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.
The Truth: Type 1 diabetes can occur in people who are not overweight. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes seem to be influenced by genetics, as well as other risk factors. However, being overweight can increase a person’s risk and research has shown a link between sugary beverages and the development of type 2.
Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat sweets.
The Truth: We should all eat a balanced and healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Exceptions can made for special occasions, but small portions and moderation is the key.
Myth: You can catch diabetes from others.
The Truth: While there are still things we do not know about diabetes, we do know that it is not contagious. You cannot catch it from another person like you can a cold or the flu.
Myth: Having diabetes means my child is sick.
The Truth: Diabetes does not mean that your child is sick or unwell. Your child can be healthy with diabetes as long as she follows the recommendations of her health care team. Illness can make diabetes more difficult to control, so it is important to promote healthy habits like hand washing and to make sure your child gets the flu vaccine each year.
Understanding Type 1, Type 2 and Prediabetes
There are two types of diabetes that are found in kids and teens: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes usually affects younger and slimmer individuals while type 2 typically affects older and heavier individuals, although there is some crossover.
With both types of diabetes there is an issue with how the body makes and uses insulin, a hormone that helps move sugar from the blood to the liver and muscles for energy. Without insulin, the body begins to break down fat for energy, which can make you feel sick.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin. There’s no known cause and currently no known way to prevent the development of type 1. Kids with type 1 need insulin for treatment, but monitoring their diet and encouraging plenty of exercise are still important.
People with type 2 diabetes may make insulin, but it may not be enough to meet the body’s needs. These children are sometimes treated with medicines taken by mouth along with diet and exercise, but some will also need to be treated with insulin. Making healthy choices is good for everyone and can potentially prevent type 2 diabetes.
Before being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your child may have prediabetes. This is when blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be called diabetes. Many times there are no clear signs of prediabetes, although children could have thickening or darkening of the skin around their neck.
What signs should parents look for? Common symptoms include increased urination, waking up at night to urinate or having accidents, drinking more water than usual, losing weight without trying, and vomiting. Your child’s doctor will be able to diagnose diabetes by checking his blood glucose level.
Although diabetes is not yet curable, it is manageable. Your child’s pediatrician might refer you to an endocrinologist, a doctor who has special training for treating diabetes and other conditions that are affected by how the body produces certain hormones. Together with your primary care physician, endocrinologist and other specialists–such as a diabetes educator, registered dietician, pharmacist, and mental health professional–you’ll be able to develop a personalized care plan for your child. With regular care, a long and healthy life is possible.
Living a Healthy Lifestyle
An easy way for families to get and stay healthy is to remember the 5-2-1-0 rule:
- Aim to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day
- Spend less than 2 hours in front of the screen (school work not included)
- Exercise for at least 1 hour daily
- Limit or have 0 sugar sweetened drinks
The American Heart Association reports that sugary beverages are the number one source of excess sugar in the diets of Americans. More than just soda, this category also includes fruit juice, sweet tea, flavored milk, and sports drinks. Water is the best way to stay hydrated, so try adding freshly sliced fruit, vegetables and/or herbs to a bottle of water for a flavorful treat.
Encourage physical activity by planning activities that get the whole family moving and create a routine by setting aside time every day for swimming, skating or any other physical activity your child likes to do. If it feels like play, kids will be more likely to want to take part.
Visit Fit4Allkids.org for more information on encouraging a healthy lifestyle for your family.
Dr. Pallavi Iyer is a mom to twin boys and the Medical Director and Division Chief of the Division of Endocrinology & Diabetes for All Children’s Specialty Physicians and All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine. She is an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and a voluntary clinical assistant professor at University of South Florida, Department of Pediatrics. After graduating from The Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health, Dr. Iyer completed her pediatric residency and pediatric endocrinology fellowship at the USF Morsani College of Medicine. Dr. Iyer is a board-certified pediatric endocrinologist and a member of the Endocrine Society, the Pediatric Endocrine Society and the American Diabetes Association. She has also served as a physician for the Florida Camp for Children and Youth with Diabetes. Her interests include diabetes, thyroid disease, adrenal disorders, disorders of growth and pubertal development, and calcium metabolism.