25% of Kids Have Prediabetes, and Most Don’t Know It. Here’s What to Do About It
According to the CDC, one in four children and one in five adolescents have prediabetes. People with prediabetes have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.
The obvious concern is whether or not prediabetes will develop into full-blown type 2 diabetes. What you may not know is that prediabetes increases your chances of developing other concerning conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and more.
The kicker? Most people don’t know they have prediabetes. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 25% of people who have full-fledged diabetes are not aware that they have it.
Diabetes is on the rise.
In 2015, over 9% of the population had diabetes, which is a sharp rise from just 1% in the 1950s. The surge is even more alarming when you account for population increases over the same period. The prevalence of diabetes in the U.S. tripled from 1990 and 2010.
Only recently have numbers of new diagnoses fallen in the U.S. In 2008, 1.7 million new cases were diagnosed, as compared to 1.3 million cases in 2017. The number of people who are living with diabetes has stayed relatively level.
Still, numbers are far too high, especially for kids, and there’s too much at stake. Steep blood sugar swings early in life could set you up for a lifetime of trouble regulating your blood sugar and keeping your levels stable.
Is prediabetes reversible?
Diabetes is simply high blood sugar that lasts longer than brief periods. It’s normal for your blood sugar to be high after scarfing a big piece of chocolate cake. Even then, a normal metabolism can deal with it. It’s when your body doesn’t regulate your blood sugar properly that you end up with prediabetes and diabetes.
With attention to your diet and lifestyle, prediabetes is reversible. Your doctor can provide you with the right resources here. These steps can start you on the right path.
Eliminate sugar to lower your insulin needs.
Most foods marketed to children are considerably higher in sugar than foods marketed to adults. That makes it difficult to cut out sugar, but it can be done. Make changes gradually -- start by opting for water instead of sweet drinks. Then, move on to snacks and treats that you make at home instead of buying packaged snacks. Experiment with natural, non-chemical sweeteners that won’t spike your blood sugar.
Add high-quality fats and proteins into your diet.
If you have a carbohydrate snack, pair it with protein and fat. The protein and fat slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream and keep blood sugar more steady than it would be with sugar or carbs alone. For example, add a little almond butter to apple slices or blend in full-fat coconut milk with your smoothie.
When you’re moving, you’re using up extra glucose, or blood sugar, that is circulating in your bloodstream and stored in your muscles.
Cook at home more so you can control ingredients.
Food manufacturers use a lot of sugar, even in items that aren’t sweet, like spaghetti sauce. If you start making foods you would normally buy from scratch, your sugar consumption will go down without even trying.
Make it fun.
Encourage your kids to try new foods with an “eat the rainbow” chart or a friendly competition to see who in the house can eat the most vegetables in a week.
If someone you know is prediabetic, it's worth understanding the basics as well as things you can do to support healthy blood sugar levels. It’s always a good idea to bring up any health concerns with a medical professional.
When you eat, your metabolism converts sugar and carbs to glucose. When everything works well, your body senses the presence of glucose, and you release insulin—a signaling hormone that gets your cells ready to take up glucose. Your bloodstream delivers glucose to cells for energy, and whatever isn’t used right away gets stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen (stored glucose).
A few things can go wrong. You may not make enough insulin, so your cells don’t take glucose out of your bloodstream. Or, if you’ve been eating a lot of sugar and carbs, insulin signaling weakens and your cells become “deaf” to the signal to take up glucose. In both cases, glucose stays in the bloodstream longer than it should, which opens you up to complications. Prolonged high bood sugar can lead to heart problems, stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and more.