Busting 10 myths about childhood diabetes

According to World Diabetes Atlas 2015 published by the International Diabetes Federation, India has 70,000 children suffering from Type-1 diabetes, second only to the US (80,000) – Dr. Atish Laddad

Over the past decade, there’s been an alarming increase in the number of children diagnosed with diabetes. According to the World Diabetes Atlas 2015 published by the International Diabetes Federation, India has 70,000 children suffering from Type-1 diabetes, second in number only to the US (80,000). Diabetes mellitus in children is predominantly Type 1 (pancreatic cells produce little or no insulin); though incidence of children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (the body cannot effectively use insulin) is becoming increasingly common.

Juvenile diabetes is the outcome of a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. The symptoms associated with childhood diabetes are almost similar to those experienced by adults — weight loss, fatigue, frequent urination and excessive thirst. Some symptoms specific to children are abdominal pain, headaches, and behavioural problems.

10 common myths about juvenile diabetes

Myth1. Excess sugar consumption causes diabetes in children

Fact. The common public perception is that the foremost cause of children developing this ailment is consumption of foods high in sugar content. But it has been medically proven that the most common form of diabetes in children — Type 1 — is caused by damage to cells producing insulin in the pancreas. This damage is not related to consumption of sugar. However, intake of excess sugar in daily diets can lead to weight gain, which, in turn, can increase the risk of diabetes in children.

Myth 2. Children diagnosed with diabetes should avoid exercise and physical exertion

Fact. A completely unfounded supposition. In fact, exercise is vital for children’s healthy growth and development, regardless of whether they are diabetic or not. On the contrary, regular exercise is critically important for diabetic children as it helps them manage their weight, boosts cardiovascular health, and facilitates regulation of blood sugar levels. Juvenile diabetics have the same capability to play and excel in sports as other children.

Myth 3. Insulin cures diabetes

Fact. Insulin is not a cure for diabetes; it only helps to manage the condition by getting glucose out of the blood and into cells, where it’s utilised to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Myth 4. Diabetes is contagious

Fact. Not at all. Diabetes is not a communicable disease. Patients suffering from diabetes inherit genes that make them prone to developing this ailment.

Myth 5. Only overweight children are in danger of developing diabetes

Fact. Obesity is just one of several factors that increases the risk of diabetes. Juvenile diabetes is the result of a combination of factors such as family history, race, ethnicity, and age.

Myth 6. Children with diabetes may outgrow the condition

Fact. This is untrue; they cannot outgrow diabetes. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, pancreatic cells that produce insulin have been destroyed. They will never be able to produce insulin again. Therefore Type 1 diabetics need to use insulin throughout their lifetime. However, children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes may witness gradual improvement in their sugar levels with lifestyle alterations.

Myth 7. Child diabetes can be prevented

Fact. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which cannot be prevented. Since its cause is yet to be known, there is no cure although your child’s dietary and lifestyle choices play a significant role in maintaining good health.

Myth 8: Diabetic children should be banned from eating desserts

Fact: If you ensure your child follows a healthy and well-balanced diet and exericse regimen, she can enjoy desserts in moderate quantity.

Myth 9. Diabetics know when their blood sugar level is high and low

Fact. This is not true. Children may perceive some body changes if their blood sugar levels go very high or low. It’s important to get lab tests done to gauge blood sugar levels accurately.

Myth 10. A diabetic child is not capable of pursuing a normal life

Fact. With proper supervision, a well-balanced diet, exercise and medication, it is very possible for a diabetic child to lead a normal life and pursue schooling, higher education, sports activities and be successful in her chosen career.

(Dr. Atish Laddad is a well-known Mumbai-based paediatrician and founder-director of Docterz)

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