WJLA-ABC News reported today on a study that found two million adolescents have pre-diabetes. The study appears in November's Pediatrics, being published Monday. It is based on data involving 915 youngsters who participated in a 1999-2000 national health survey.
To assess those participating, researchers used the American Diabetes Association critera to determine how many were diabetic and how many were pre-diabetic. Pre-diabetes is defined as a fasting blood glucose of 100ml/dL or greater, yet below 125ml/dL; diabetic is 125ml/dL or greater.
The average level was 89.7, within the normal range, but 7 percent of the children in the study were in the pre-diabetic range, translating to about 2 million U.S. youngsters. Roughly 16 percent of the youngsters studied were obese, about the same as recent national estimates.
Also noteable, those children affected also had other risk markers for other health issues, like future heart disease - both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides were markedly higher in those teens with elevated blood glucose levels.
Why is this important?
For one thing, it is a big red flag that something is wrong with the diet of our children - the abnormally high blood sugar levels are wrecking havoc on their internal organs, slowly, insidiously - and it isn't because something is wrong with their metabolism...something is wrong with their diet.
Until recently, Type II Diabetes was a disease of "old age" - something that happened over time to a small population of older people.
Over time, as the body becomes "insulin resistant," it becomes less efficient at using insulin and blood sugar levels may rise to levels that are damaging when they're higher than normal day-in-day-out. For decades we have taken the perspective that pre-diabetes and diabetes (Type II) is the body's inability to properly use the blood sugar lowering hormone, insulin. And while this view is "accurate," it removes from the discussion table the cause of the condition and makes it one of metabolic disfunction rather than metabolic overload.
To be clear, it is a disfunction, but not one that is just random, that strikes without any predictability; nor is it caused by something "going wrong" in the body - it is a condition created by the wrong environment for optimal function of the body; an environment that over time causes the disfunction in the metabolism.
This metabolic overload does take a predictable path - weight gain, decreased physical activity, rising LDL, skyrocketing triglycerides, increasing fasting blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, more weight gain, damage to internal organs, high blood pressure, etc. - until the body reaches a state of Type II Diabetes with underlying medical issues that must also be addressed.
The obesity and Type II Diabetes are outward symptoms of something much more insidious.
What is fueling this disfunction is not a metabolism gone awry, but years of eating a poor diet and consuming what can only be described as excessive carbohydrate in a state of malnutrition. This excess of carbohydrate and a chronic failure to meet nutrient requirements is exhausting the metabolism - exhausting the body's ability to produce and effectively use insulin.
It is time we change our perspective to one that addresses the underlying problem - poor diet - and stop pretending it isn't the increase in carbohydrate, to excessive levels, in our diet that is causing the numbers of children, adolescents and adults that become obese to continue climb and the numbers being diagnoised with pre-diabetes and diabetes to skyrocket along with other symptoms like dyslipidemia and high blood pressure.
What was once a long-term "wear-and-tear" disease seen in older people is now, with increasing and alarming frequency, afflicting our children. When are we going to stand up and say "enough is enough" - how many millions of children must be diagnoised before we finally step up and truthfully state the problem and give parents the solution to try to prevent this in their children?
This isn't rocket science.
Excessive carbohydrate translates, in the metabolism, to high levels of blood glucose that the body MUST manage with insulin. Insulin is the ONLY means of lowering blood glucose and the path of least resistance is to store excess blood glucose as body fat. The body only has a finite capacity to use glucose metabolized from carbohydrate for immediate energy and a finite capacity to store excess blood glucose as glycogen. Anything above and beyond these finite limits is stored as body fat to use later for energy when needed - and there is no "finite" storage capacity for body fat...it just keeps going and going.
The problem with this is that later never comes - one gets hungry again, eats again, eats an excess of carbohydrate again, and continues the vicious cycle in the metabolism, growing fatter and fatter while their ability to effectively use insulin diminishes, which steps up the vicious cycle and starts to cause lasting damage. What used to take multiple decades to develop is now taking just a few years - if that isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is.
The daily diet of our children and our teens is littered with junk food - and not just occassionally, but every day, day after day, for the average kid.
Our children don't have some new defect in their genes or their metabolism - they are being fed a defective, nutritionally bankrupt diet.
Children and teens REQUIRE a nutrient-dense diet every day and each time they are fed or eat something that is nutritionally bankrupt, thier body is being robbed of long-term health; being robbed of an ability to function properly to optimize their health.
Think about that next time you see a toddler with a baby bottle filled with cola or eating french fries at the local fast food restaurant; think about that next time you see a teen guzzle down a huge slurpee or buy a bag of chips and a bottle of soda for lunch; think about that next time you shop for dinner for your family and have to decide between the fried chicken bucket with mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, a pie and a 'bucket-o-soda' from the drive through or picking up some chicken breasts, green salad, green beans and carrots with some lemon essence mineral water and fresh berries for dinner instead.