Never before in human history have we seen “adult onset” or type 2 diabetes in children. There has been an over 1,000% increase in type 2 diabetes in children over the last two decades(1). Fifteen years ago 3% of new cases of diabetes in children were type 2 diabetes. Now it is 50%(2). Forty percent of children are now overweight and 2 million are morbidly obese, exceeding the 99th percentile for weight(3).
Scientists say that we have only 3,600 cases of type 2 diabetes in children(4). Nonsense. Almost all of those 2 million morbidly obese kids have either pre-diabetes or diabetes or what we should call “diabesity”. In adults 25% of diabetics and 90% of pre-diabetics are not diagnosed. In children most of the cases are missed(5).
A study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that medications don’t work and general lifestyle instruction isn’t much help either to treat type 2 diabetes in children. And the disease is more rapidly progressive and aggressive in children. Kids who haven’t even learned to swallow a pill are now facing giving themselves daily insulin injections. Poor and minority kids are more heavily afflicted.
Do we really think we can medicate our way out of a bad diet? Can we really overcome the 54 gallons of soda consumed every year by the average American, or the 34 teaspoons of sugar consumed DAILY by the average child in America with a medication(6), or some handouts on eating better? One of the drugs used in the study, Avandia, has been responsible for over 200,000 deaths from heart attacks since it was introduced in 1999(7). The Food and Drug Administration has restricted its use. Should we be using this in children? This is pharmageddon.
Putting these little children on insulin sooner doesn’t make any sense either. Starting insulin in diabetics is a slippery slope, leading to a cascade of increasing weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The sugar comes down, but everything else that kills diabetics gets worse.
Adult diseases are now commonplace in children. I recently spoke at an Emory University conference on childhood type 2 diabetes. I met a pediatric gastroenterologist and wondered what he was doing at a conference on diabetes. He told me he now has 5-year-old patients with cirrhosis from fatty liver caused by years of drinking soda. There has been an over 50% increase in strokes in children aged 5 to 14(8). We are now seeing heart attacks in teenagers, and twenty year olds needing cardiac bypass surgery because obesity and diabetes clogs their arteries.
This is a disease that is nearly 100% preventable and reversible. But it won’t be solved in the doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. It has to be fixed where it begins; in our homes, communities and our society and in our government policies and industry practices. This is a social disease and we need a social cure.
This study should be a national wake up call. A siren blaring the insanity of our current medical approach to obesity and type 2 diabetes for both children and adults.
When a five year old has cirrhosis and an eight year old has a stroke this is not about personal choice or better medication. Now that scientists have proven that fast food and sugar are biologically addictive, we can’t blame the individual or the family. Can a heroin addict just cut down?
We need a massive call to action, a national coordinated multi-pronged campaign. We need President Obama and all the Republican candidates to stand before the nation and declare we will end type 2 diabetes in children by the end of this decade, just like President Kennedy mobilized our nation to get a man on the moon by the end of the 1960’s.
The food industry must be held to account. Simple policy changes could have enormous impact.