Juvenile diabetes: a rising concern

Many people believe that diabetes is an ailment that hits only adults, especially the middle-aged. It can, therefore, be disconcerting for a parent to find out that their child is suffering from diabetes. The fact is that about 10 lakh children live with type 1 diabetes in India, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Type 1 diabetes in children implies that insulin is no longer produced in their bodies and they need external insulin supplement to manage this ailment. Also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, it may redefine the life of your child who will now need periodic monitoring of blood sugar levels and it's management.

As we observe World Diabetes Day on November 14, it is pertinent for us to talk about the subject of Juvenile Diabetes, as this day in India is also Children's Day. Though it may need some adjustments in the lives of the affected children, type 1 diabetes can be managed well and prevented from advancing to a more dangerous level. Through consistent care, proper blood sugar monitoring and insulin delivery, the daily management of type 1 diabetes in children can be done.

Juvenile diabetes is largely believed to be a genetic issue. However, some environmental factors could aggravate the problem. Rapidly changing lifestyles with improper dietary habits with excess consumption of calories, simple sugars, saturated fats and less fibre, and markedly reduced physical activity may be among the contributing factors.

All these modern lifestyle problems that have put adults under a diabetes threat might also be the result for our children to be in great danger, making them more vulnerable towards Type 2 diabetes too. It is, hence, crucial that awareness is required if at all we look forward to our future generations lead their lives in a diabetic-controlled environment.

In a country like India where many do not have access to healthcare and most people are unaware of the fact that diabetes can affect children who may often go undiagnosed till they are too ill. Even the onset of the ailment is slow and parents may often confuse the symptoms for something else or overlook them. It is hence important to generate enough awareness among people about how to monitor the health of their children.

There are some signs and symptoms that parents should monitor, especially those who know that there is a strong family history of diabetes.

An increase in thirst or urination, issues with vision, a sudden weight loss or lethargy in the child are some of the symptoms that should be taken seriously. A doctor should immediately be consulted and required checks undertaken for the child as diabetes might be a cause for these problems.

Setting an example

With a rise in childhood obesity, there also has been an increase in the number of children who develop type 2 diabetes.

It is important that we promote a healthy diet with regular monitoring of sugar level topped with compulsory and consistent physical activity in order to prevent children from developing type 2 diabetes. Healthy eating and physical activity can prevent obesity and its disastrous consequences and if a family becomes health conscious, children are more likely to follow suit and hence we will see the change.

Children are very much dependent on what they are being told, in what kind of an environment they are born and brought up, is exercise or health check-ups a regular affair in the family or things like these do play an important role because this is what they will fall prey to and a healthy family will more predictably have healthy children only.

Medical care of a child with diabetes does not stop there. Since most of the affected are school children, teachers and school nurses should be able to recognise diabetic emergencies and offer first-aid treatment whenever needed.

Parents should always inform the teacher or concerned authorities about the diagnosis
and make sure their child has a helping hand in school, during an emergency. This is very important when a diabetic child
is hypoglycemic (having low blood sugars). Two spoons of sugar, glucose or a sugary drink
should be given to the child while awaiting medical help.

(The writer is Consultant - Paediatrics and Paediatric Endocrinology, Columbia Asia Hospital, Whitefield, Bengaluru)

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