Childhood Obesity and Diabetes

child's play

We are still in National Diabetes Month, and for The Atlantic, Brian Fung gave a very clear basic explanation of that condition:

These days, when people talk about diabetes, they mean the kind that goes hand-in-hand with obesity. The kind you get when you eat too much fast food and drink too much sugary soda. That’s type 2 diabetes. But the other kind — type 1, or what used to be called ‘juvenile diabetes’ — is just as bad, if not worse, because there’s not very much you can do to prevent it.

While patients with type 2 diabetes either become insulin resistant or can’t produce enough of the stuff to manage their blood sugar levels effectively, patients with type 1 diabetes can’t produce insulin at all.

Along with childhood obesity, both forms of diabetes are spreading rapidly, and nobody quite seems to know why or what to do about it. As with any crisis, people who think they know what to do about a situation are not always in a position to carry out their preferred measures.

Researchers chip away at the edges of the mystery, and find interesting correlations that may or may not turn out to be meaningful in the context of prevention and cure. For instance, Jessica Cerretani tells readers how the Obesity Prevention Program at Harvard Medical School discovered that babies in black and Hispanic families are likely to put on excess weight at an earlier age than white kids. This was learned through Project Viva, a longitudinal study that has followed some children for as long as seven years.

Another revelation:

Black and Hispanic mothers were also more likely to begin their pregnancies overweight or obese, to have depressive symptoms during pregnancy, and (Hispanic only) to develop gestational diabetes.

The team is headed by program director Matthew Gilman and Elsie Taveras, who teaches pediatrics and population medicine. Diabetes is a concern of theirs all year long, not just during the official Month. They have studied childhood obesity in relation to breastfeeding (do it), maternal smoking (don’t do it), and Caesarean sections (don’t get one unless absolutely necessary). They advocate the promotion of infant sleep, a precept which most parents instinctively grasp without difficulty. They recommend early intervention.

The prevention of childhood obesity begins before birth, and even before conception. Gilman is quoted as saying:

We’re focusing on expectant and new mothers, because most women are especially receptive to making positive changes for their child’s health during and right after pregnancy.

The importance of what goes on during the prenatal period of development was emphasized again by work done at the University of Manchester and published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Mothers involved in weight-reduction diets around the time of conception and early in their pregnancies may be producing babies prone to obesity and type 2 diabetes. It seems to hold true with sheep, anyway. Researcher Anne White, Ph.D., says:

This study provides exciting insights into how behavior can lead to epigenetic changes in offspring related to obesity and disease.

The point here is, not all genetic factors are inherited. An expectant mother’s nutritional program can actually influence the baby’s genes to change in ways they otherwise would not have. Things can happen that affect the baby’s ability to deal with glucose levels and inner control over food intake. As FASEB Journal editor Gerald Weissmann, M.D., phrases it:

We are what our mothers ate.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Bad News: The Children’s Diabetes Epidemic Just Got Worse,” The Atlantic, 06/11/12
Source: “Targeting childhood obesity early,” Harvard Gazette, 09/18/12
Source: “Dieting During Pregnancy Increases Risk Of Obesity And Diabetes For Offspring,” Medical News Today, 04/02/12
Image by mescon (Erik Soderstrom).

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