Children Face Type 2 Diabetes Health Concerns After a Year at HomeSeptember 15, 20213 min read
Some children are facing health concerns after a year of attending school online. During the pandemic, research found cases of type 2 diabetes among children more than doubled. Lisa Diewald, MS, RD, LDN, Program Manager for the MacDonald Center for Obesity and Education weighed in on causes and potential prevention methods going forward.
“We know that physical activity level, eating habits, weight status and other lifestyle factors play a significant role in the development of type 2 diabetes in adults and in children,” said Diewald. “Because of disruptions for many children in all four factors during the pandemic, (on top of pre-existing challenges), we are starting to see trickle-down health effects involving lifestyle-related chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and children are not immune to these health effects.”
Type 2 diabetes is related to obesity, exercise habits and diet. Children who struggle with weight may also have many social, genetic and environmental factors impacted by the accelerated risk seen through the pandemic. For example, the absence of healthy school meals while learning from home negatively impacted some children, as processed foods became replacements.
Eating habits are also largely impacted by one’s mental state.
“Like adults, children learn to cope with stress and anxiety in different ways. For some, this means reaching for comfort foods, which are often high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fat and sugar-all risk factors for T2 diabetes if consumed in excess,” said Diewald. “These foods can contribute to unhealthy weight gain, especially when physical activity is limited as well. The bad news is that it does not take a lot of weight gain to put a child who is already at risk at greater risk for diabetes.”
But families should be aware of the good news that small changes can make a big difference and that prevention is possible.
Diewald recommends a few small changes to alter a sedentary routine for parents and schools:
• Build 1 minute brain breaks during the day for activity such as stretching or running up and down the stairs
• Keep healthy snacks available and sugar sweetened snacks and drinks less visible
• Create safe and walkable opportunities for children to add physical activity
• Look for outdoor community sponsored activities that encourage physical activity that can provide safe and accessible physical activity opportunities
Additional measures for parents to prevent the unhealthy coping with foods including working with children to make a list of fun alternative activities (unrelated to food) to do when boredom kicks in and posting in an accessible place in the home. Parents can act as role models and let children see that parents are working on more effective ways to cope as well.
Though the risk of type 2 diabetes has been increasing during the past year, many factors can continually increase a person’s risk. These tips can provide the valuable tools for prevention in the future.
“Teaching children healthier ways to cope with boredom and depression than eating are skills that can help for a lifetime, well beyond the pandemic,” said Diewald.
To speak with Diewald, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Diewald Program Manager, MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education | M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing
Lisa K. Diewald, MS, RD, LDN, is an expert in healthy eating and nutrition education programs for children and adults