A new report suggests that 1 in 4 teens may be diabetic, which is a pretty big increase from just 10 years ago. It sounds pretty scary, especially if you don’t understand the disease. So what is diabetes?
There are actually a few types of the disease, but the most common are “Type 1” and “Type 2.” Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in kids, teens, and young adults. The cause isn’t known and it’s a lifelong illness. When the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to process blood sugar into your cells to use for energy, it leads to the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes.
However, the diabetes that’s being found more and more often in teens is actually Type 2. With Type 2 diabetes, your muscle, fat, and liver cells don’t respond to insulin correctly. As a result, it makes your blood sugar high. Symptoms of high blood sugar that goes along with Type 2 diabetes include feeling thirsty, having dry skin, constant fatigue, shortness of breath, peeing a lot, unexplained weight loss, numbness in hands or feet, and blurry vision. Yikes!
Type 2 diabetes occurs gradually, so you may not even realize it’s happening right away. One major cause of Type 2 diabetes is being overweight, because excess fat makes it hard for your body to use insulin correctly–though it can still occur in people who are at a healthy weight too. Being inactive, storing fat around your waist, and poor nutrition all up your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Another major factor is family history and genetics–so if your parents, grandparents, or blood relatives are diabetic, chances are you may be too.
The increase in Type 2 diabetes in teens is extra scary because the disease develops a lot faster–and is a lot harder to treat–in younger people. While Type 2 diabetes was commonly associated with the obesity epidemic, the new findings suggest that whether or a not a teen is overweight, he or she may still be at a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes based on his or her blood sugar levels. Some experts suggest that if teens were overweight or sedentary as younger kids, the increase in the disease could be because it took a while for the diabetes to “catch up with them.”
The other thing that makes this particularly alarming is that high blood sugar raises your risk of not only diabetes, but also heart disease, which is the number 1 killer of women. That means candy could actually kind of kill you! Eek!
However, you may not need to get too freaked out just yet. The docs involved in the study said that most of the teens tested weren’t yet diabetic–they were prediabetic, which is actually treatable with weight loss, dietary changes, and exercise. Additionally, out of the teens whose blood sugar was tested, if any of them didn’t fast for the full eight hours before the blood test was given, it may have skewed the results. And admit it–when you know you’re not supposed to eat, aren’t you the most hungry?
In any case, the study thinks that–come on, you knew this was coming!–mobile devices, computers, and video games may be part of the problem, because sometimes Mario Kart or Words With Friends seem more appealing than going for a jog. There are ways to compromise–a Kinect or Wii Fit combine elements of both a workout and a video game, so you may forget that you’re actually working out because you’re focused on beating a high score instead of burning Calories.
If you’re at a manageable weight, eat generally healthily (of course, the occasional donut won’t kill you!), and work out regularly, you probably don’t have much to worry about. But if you don’t want to spend a lifetime pricking your fingers to test your blood sugar all the time (we just shuddered at the thought–ouch!), there’s no better time than now to get healthy!
Does diabetes run in your family? Do you have diabetes? How do you manage it? Do you think you’re at risk for diabetes? Tell us in the comments!