The EarlyBird study and others like it are important because they’re about preventing the preventable kind of diabetes, Type 2. Prevention is, of course, the best way, if it can be done. And if Type 2 develops, and is diagnosed, it can in many cases be managed by lifestyle changes. This is unlike Type 1, an autoimmune disease where no insulin is produced by the body. People are born with it, and need pharmaceutical insulin to live. Type 1, or juvenile diabetes, has also been increasing, but, unlike Type 2, the reasons are unknown.
Sometimes a fresh, unexpected perspective comes from a patient. This one is from a man who has struggled all his life with the pain and the expense of Type 1, and illustrates the ever-present liability of unintended consequences:
The big advancement they’ve made in 30 years is, you can test your blood by pricking your arm instead of your finger. So much research now is about Type 2, it’s like they’ve forgotten about Type 1. All the attention goes to the preventable kind, with no help for the people who had no say in it.
Type 1 diabetes is unrelated to obesity, but Type 2 seems inextricably connected to obesity. It has been described as a vicious circle. When insulin resistance begins to develop, that promotes weight gain, and weight gain promotes more insulin resistance. It seems pretty obvious that the place to break this circle is in the weight gain area. What makes kids obese, and how can it be stopped? That’s what the EarlyBird Diabetes Study is all about.
Perhaps the most shocking discovery, as we discussed, is that exercise doesn’t seem to be the answer. Contrary to popular belief, the EarlyBird Study finds that kids seem to have a preset activity level that they pretty much stick with. If you make them move around more in the morning, they’ll move around less in the afternoon. Also, fat causes immobility, but immobility doesn’t seem to cause fat. There are skinny kids who don’t get a lot of exercise.
The EarlyBird Study isn’t finished, but it does draw conclusions and publish results as it goes along. Aside from the activity surprise, some other interesting things have been found. For instance, socioeconomic status doesn’t seem to make nearly as much difference as activists and politicians would have us believe. Apparently, poor kids and rich kids are all at risk for the equal-opportunity destroyers, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Around the world, there seems to be an agreement that tall children are healthy children, but it’s just as easy for a tall kid to gain excess weight and become insulin-resistant. Girls are more likely than boys to fall prey to Type 2 when they are young, because girls are intrinsically more insulin-resistant (or less insulin-sensitive). The implication here is that, where resources are scarce, they might better be spent on female children, who are at greater risk.
These researchers also feel that, by the time attention is paid to children, it might already be too late. Education efforts need to be aimed at parents — preferably, all of them, but certainly the parents who are themselves obese. In one EarlyBird Diabetes Study report, a section title says:
Obese parents, in particular those of the same gender, [are] key to childhood obesity.
The page goes on to explain that the daughter of an obese mother is 10 times as likely to be obese herself. And the son of an obese father is six times as likely to be obese. So, obviously, something more than straight genetics is going on here. Otherwise, the sex of the obese parent wouldn’t make a difference. This is one of the many mysteries yet to be unraveled, in the effort to end both childhood obesity and diabetes.
Additionally, and not surprisingly, they also found that parents are often unaware and unconcerned.
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