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Diabetes in children: how to keep your kids healthy and diabetes-free

The number of children in the UAE and the Middle East with diabetes has doubled since 2000. There are two main types of diabetes - type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes also called childhood onset insulin dependent diabetes happens more frequently in those below age 20. Type 2 diabetes also called adult onset diabetes can appear in childhood, usually as early as the teenage years. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyle. Unfortunately, the rising prevalence of obesity can make it difficult at times to determine whether a young person\'s diabetes is caused by type 1 diabetes or by type 2 diabetes. 

Abu Dhabi Health Authority states that the increase has been particularly noticeable in the past five to eight years. There has been a worldwide spike in diabetes, but it is especially pronounced in this region.
The precise cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet known. It may be brought on by viral infections during pregnancy or early childhood. Other possible related factors exposure to pollutants in the environment or in foods. There are genetic and ethnic factors involved in fueling the risk for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The high incidence of type 2 diabetes in the UAE, which is caused primarily by lifestyle factors such as obesity and lack of exercise, is well documented.
Sugary beverages have been implicated as one of the major causes of diabetes and obesity in children. Sodas aren\'t the only drinks that contain a lot of sugar. This may come as a surprise to many of us because a lot of kids have cut out drinking traditional sodas altogether. Energy drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, iced teas and bottled coffees all contain sugar as an ingredient. Kim Mangham, M.D., a pediatrician in Keller is concerned about obesity among today’s youth. Fighting obesity is a passion of Dr. Mangham and she calls sugar a “huge” factor in today’s kids becoming obese.

“Sugar affects the pleasure centers in your brain much like other addictive substances,” Dr. Mangham said. “I advise my parents to try to avoid offering beverages and processed foods high in sugar and added salt because kids will start to prefer these foods over the healthy natural fruits and vegetables.”

Dr. Mangham says removing sugary drinks from your home will lead to less weight gain in kids and that sticking to water and milk is a great first step in helping kids achieve a life free from the many burdens of obesity.

Dr. Joel Steelman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Cook’s Children Hospital in Texas states the higher sugar intake that makes kids obese is particularly easy to get when children drink it in the form of sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages. He uses this formula to explain:

Dr. Steelman added, “Obesity, particularly when we’re talking about obesity in the waist area, leads to diabetes and metabolic syndrome risk. The fructose component in sucrose (table sugar) or in high fructose corn syrup is strongly suspected in impacting how our liver works and raising risk for diabetes. Also, high sugar intake can create a continued craving for more sugar.”

Dr. Mangham’s mother has type 2 diabetes. When she speaks to her mom, she talks to her about their family history and educates her on their risks of getting the disease.

“Parents are in control of the amount of sugar their children get per day, even if they don’t realize it,” Dr. Mangham said. “I advise my mom and the rest of the family to try to keep it out of the house, so everyone can be healthier. Kids are not mature enough to know when they have had enough candy or candy bars or donuts. They need their parents to set appropriate limits.”

IDF Diabetes Atlas identified over 60,700 children between 0-14 years old are suffering from type 1 diabetes and 10,200 newly diagnosed children each year across the Middle East and North Africa region.

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