Type 2 Diabetes in Children: A New Epidemic

Article excerpt

Telling a child he has diabetes is one hurdle. Helping him manage the disease to avoid debilitating complications later in life is perhaps a taller mountain to climb.

For many years, one type of diabetes was primarily seen in children - type 1, in which the body doesn't make insulin.

But over the last 15 to 20 years, mostly because of childhood obesity, children have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, in which the body no longer recognizes its insulin.

Ever since, the medical community has been hurrying to find ways to battle a new epidemic.

"It's been a huge explosion, and as a health care community, we've been ill-equipped to deal with it because the medicines used for type 2 adult diabetics were never developed and examined for safety and efficacy in children," said Dr. Kenneth Copeland, director of the pediatric division of the Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center (HHODC). "So in the last 10 years or so, we've had to scramble to figure out how to treat this terrible new epidemic in children."

Oklahoma has been a leader in that effort, however. The state has the largest number of participants in the national TODAY Study (Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth), and they will be followed and provided care for another eight years.

"It's our hope that we'll be seeing if lifestyle intervention and medical therapies are having a lasting effect," he said.

Copeland, who is an endocrinologist, said diabetic patients make up about one-fourth to one-third of his practice, but take up half of his efforts because of the disease's complexity. Because children are now being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it becomes a different issue than a 65-year-old receiving the same diagnosis.

"Everyone knows diabetes leads to terrible long-term complications if it's not well-controlled," he said. "When a child is getting type 2 diabetes at age 12, he's looking at it for the great majority of his life with the possibility of these debilitating complications at a much younger age. …