Is Type 2 diabetes form of child abuse?

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One of our trainers at Northwest Personal Training has been training a young girl, 15 years old, for three months. She came to him obese and had been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes at 11 years old.

Fortunately, she made the decision that her current lifestyle wasn’t working for her, and her parents supported her on this journey to become healthy.

Well, two months into the training, she came into the studio and reported that her physician cut her diabetes medication in half! And just this last week, her doc told her she was no longer diabetic and could go off her diabetes medication completely!

This young woman is physically and mentally changed forever. Her quality and quantity of life is now greatly increased. The trainer, a strong, masculine, cool kinda guy, almost started bawling on the spot by what an impact a commitment to a healthy lifestyle made on this girl’s life.

It got me thinking. Should adult-onset diabetes in kids be considered a form of child abuse? I know that seems so extreme, but Type 2 diabetes is referred to as adult-onset diabetes for a reason: it’s something that only adults used to experience. But we’ve experienced a more than a 1,000 percent increase in Type 2 diabetes in children over the past two decades.

Forty percent of children are now overweight, and millions are diagnosed as morbidly obese. These young children, who don’t even know how to swallow a pill, are now having to face daily insulin injections.

The health risks associated with Type 2 diabetes are immense, and some studies have shown a 30 percent reduction in life expectancy of people suffering from the condition. Not to mention, the impacts on kids’ self-esteem and depression are severe.

Kids are cruel; we know it. The fat kid always gets made fun of! Children with obesity and Type 2 diabetes live tougher, poorer lives; they often don’t finish school and earn much less than their healthy counterparts. Why would we allow this to happen to our kids?

Do we really want to medicate our kids out of an unhealthy lifestyle? This is a disease that is nearly 100 percent preventable and reversible if the proper action is taken — case in point above.

So, what works? How about a wake-up call for parents and our society as a whole! My kids are like any kids and would sit around watching TV and playing video games all day if I let them. They would always choose the less-healthy food options if I let them. And sure, they whine and complain when I make them go hiking or biking or rock climbing with me. But in the end, I know they will look back on these experiences with fond memories, and I know I’m laying a foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

Do they bicker when I make them eat fruit or vegetables at each meal? Absolutely! But I still make them do it. Do they ever eat unhealthy junk food or candy? Of course. But it’s all in balance, and I feel good about the fact that they are active, healthy, athletic children with very little risk of developing a disease that is completely preventable based on the lifestyle choices I make for our family.

I notice when I have fresh, cut and cleaned fruits and vegetables in the fridge, my kids will grab for those — without me even having to force it! Before dinner, I will always start with a big platter of fruits and vegetables. This is the best chance I have for them to eat a lot of them — when they are hungry. If I offer the fruits and vegetables with the rest of the meal, they just don’t eat as many. So that simple change to how we eat our meals makes a big difference to their intake.

I applaud the initiatives to minimize the access our kids have to high-calorie, nutrient-poor, sugary foods or snacks at schools and kid-focused venues. I love it when I don’t have to hear them beg and plead for something they really want but I know is not good for them. It’s nice to not even have to have that option!

It’s like a drug addict or alcoholic — you don’t tempt them with their drug of choice. And we should all know that sugar and fast food is definitely addicting. Food manufacturers know exactly what to put in the food to cause us to crave it! We need government policies and community action to support healthy communities and build an environment to give our children a chance to live happy, healthy successful lives.

Parents, it starts with simple, small choices in your homes. Be a good example to your kids, even if they complain, and give them a chance at a wonderful life.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver. She can be reached at nwPersonalTraining.com or ShapeupwithSherri.com.