How to Help Your Kids Avoid Type 2 Diabetes

Until recently, type 2 diabetes was also known as adult-onset diabetes. Now, it is no longer called adult-onset diabetes because so many children are developing the condition. Certain racial and ethnic groups are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. These include African-Americans, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and some Americans with Asian or Pacific Island backgrounds. 

In general, those with type 2 diabetes have abnormally high levels of circulating glucose (blood sugar) because their pancreas either produces too little insulin, or their bodies are resistant to insulin that is produced. (Insulin is the hormone that transports the glucose into the body's cells.) This resistance makes it difficult for the insulin to get glucose into the cells of the body. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, like adults with type 2 diabetes, children with this condition are at increased risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease, and blindness later in life. Fortunately, many of these complications can be reduced or even prevented with good control of blood sugar over a lifetime. 

While genetic factors contribute strongly to type 2 diabetes, biology isn't destiny.

For example, obesity is a big, preventable trigger for diabetes. Weight gain, or excess fat, especially in the abdomen, increases the body's demand for insulin by interfering with the body's ability to use insulin properly. To prevent or control type 2 diabetes, help your children stay at a healthy weight.

Be a role model

Helping kids stay lean and fit is a tall order. The message kids get on television is to eat junk food and drink sugar-containing beverages, such as soda. Schools often have unhealthy choices for children in the vending machines.

Still, you can help your kids keep their weight in check. In fact, your encouragement and actions may be the only thing they've got to counteract societal messages that promote weight gain.

As a parent, you set a huge example for your children. Your example carries a lot of importance, so make sure you practice what you preach. To get your kids into the exercise habit, for example, do what you want your kids to do rather than just urging them to go outside and play.

Participating as a family in regular, healthy exercise, such as bike riding, hiking, walking, running, basketball, and tennis, or even just playing in the park, sends a strong message that you value being physically fit. 

Eat dinner together

Likewise, to help your children learn how to make healthy food choices, which can help them avoid obesity, make family meal time a priority. Some healthy choices include eating at consistent mealtimes during the day, eating a healthy breakfast daily, not eating inside the car, eating at restaurants less than twice weekly, and replacing added sugar or fat with spices to improve taste. 

Why is this so important? Family dinners can promote healthy eating habits and encourage the consumption of a wide variety of healthy foods.

Not only will they eat by example, but new foods also will become less foreign when everyone has some. Of course, you may have to serve a new food 10 times before your children will try it. But don't give up, or make an issue out of eating it.

To increase the likelihood your children will try a new food, have them help you select it in the supermarket and prepare it at home. If they don't like a new food, experiment with different preparations. Don't force your child to eat anything.

Don't serve family style

To help your children get in touch with their hunger cues so they learn to stop eating when they're full, don't serve meals family style. It may encourage overeating. Portion out food appropriately on plates in the kitchen and bring it to the table.

Also, model proper portion sizes yourself and let your kids know if they want more, they can have some if they're still hungry.

Temper TV watching and eating

When it comes to weight gain, watching TV has a bad reputation—and for good reason. Eating in front of the television promotes mindless eating, and often overeating. Restrict food, including snacks, to a dining area. Avoid grazing.