DRHOOK- Fatties: Help kids exercise to avoid diabetes

the handsome doctor John Hong of Charlottesville

"I walked five miles to school when I was your age." 

Ha! Do you really believe your elders when they tell you that story? When I was in sixth grade, my dad took me back to his small village in South Korea, and I witnessed that he did indeed walk five miles to school and back. Open mouth, Insert Humble Pie. I thought walking 0.25 miles to my bus stop in Ohio was long. The bus stopped only three places in our neighborhood. I was lucky not to live on the third street because there was a big hill.

 Today, the school bus seems to stop seven times on the same street, almost every 50 feet. The bus starts braking just after it starts accelerating. So I was glad to hear some parents are doing "Walking School Bus Project" in which parents walk the kids to school. 

 Are out-of-shape kids getting fatter and developing diabetes?

 It seems we have become the Jetsons: we don't move except to push a button. The iRobot Roomba has become our Rosie to vacuum floors. Kids don't play football or basketball outside; they play their video games in their rooms. Pretty soon, kids will use Segways to play soccer.

 Type II Diabetes is related to excessive weight, especially with increased fat in the abdomen. Type II Diabetes is due to the body's resistance to insulin, the hormone that decreases blood sugar and is vital in body metabolism. 

In the past, Type II Diabetes was called "Adult Onset Diabetes," but it isn't anymore because it's now occurring and increasing in children and adolescents. In fact, one study shows that with the current trends in childhood/adolescent obesity, 40-50 percent of babies born after the year 2000 will develop Type II Diabetes in their lifetimes. "Holy Sugar Cane, Batman!"

 It just isn't in the USA where diabetes is on the rise in kids: Japan, Thailand, Argentina all report increased body weight and Type II Diabetes. In 1994, Cincinnati reported Type II Diabetes increased by 10 times. 

 There are ethnic differences in those at risk for diabetes. Native Americans have the highest risk, followed by Asian Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans. Studies have shown a western diet in Japanese Americans has led to increased heart disease compared to those back in Japan, though the diet has also become more western in certain parts of Japan. (I wonder if they have a McSushi?)

 A mother or father with Type II Diabetes is a big risk factor in kids' development of the disease. Forty to eighty percent of kids with Type II Diabetes have at least one parent who has it. Part of the problem might be the apple doesn't fall far from the tree: bad eating habits and lack of exercise. Genes are another reason, as seen in identical twins. 

 Insulin resistance and obesity might develop more readily during pregnancy if the mother has gestational diabetes. On the flip side, prenatal malnutrition can increase the risk of Type II Diabetes for the kids. 

 Symptoms of Type II Diabetes aren't usually that apparent. Excessive urination, thirst, and waking up many times to urinate can spell diabetes. Screening for Type II Diabetes would cost about $10,000 per kid for every identified case, so screening isn't recommended unless there are risk factors.

 I'm lucky my parents taught me to stay physically active because I do have risk factors for diabetes. I'm thankful never to have had Type II Diabetes as a child (because I'm sweet enough as is– hmm. Let me think about that.). 

If we want healthy Americans, we need to help the children start off on the right foot. There's no way to sugar coat this major problem America is facing.


Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he's a renowned physician with a local practice and an interesting website, drjohnhong.com. Email him with your questions.