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Number of U.S. Teens With Prediabetes Has Doubled: Here's Why and What Can Be Done

04/25/2022 06:00AM | 2384 views
  • Prediabetes is a condition in which a person’s glucose levels are higher than recommended but not high enough to be considered diabetes.
  • The number of children ages 12 to 19 in the United States with prediabetes is now estimated at 28 percent, more than double since 1999.
  • Experts say sedentary lifestyles and diets high in sugar are primary factors in the increase.
  • They recommend that parents help their children make healthy dietary choices, encourage the family to cook together and provide children with water instead of sugary drinks.

The number of youths with prediabetes has more than doubled since 1999, according to new figures recently released.

studyTrusted Source published in JAMA Pediatrics reported that 28 percent of adolescents and teens aged 12 to 19 meet the criteria for prediabetes.

The researchers reported the percentage of this age group with this condition rose from 12 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2007 to 28 percent today.

Prediabetes was more prevalent in males and in teens who lived in poverty.

Researchers looked at data from 6,600 people aged 12 to 19 who responded to the National Health and Nutrition Examination SurveyTrusted Source.

This survey, conducted every two years, allowed researchers to compare responses to previous periods. The most recent data is from 2015 to 2018, but the data goes back for several decades. 

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is when a person’s glucose levels are higher than recommended but not high enough to be considered diabetes.

People with prediabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“Prediabetes is a condition in which a person has a higher-than-normal blood sugar level. It’s not yet high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. Most importantly, in this phase, diabetes is still preventable and reversible. An individual with prediabetes will not necessarily develop diabetes if they implement the necessary lifestyle modifications,” Dr. Sri Banerjee, a faculty member in the public health program at Walden University in Minnesota, told Healthline.

PrediabetesTrusted Source is most prevalent in boys ages 12 to 18. It is more common in Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black communities than in non-Hispanic white populations.

In the United States, an estimated 100 million adults have prediabetes. Typically, there are no symptoms unless type 2 diabetes develops.

“Your physician can get a sense of how your glucose has been in the past six weeks with a special blood test known as the glycated hemoglobin,” Banerjee explained. “If the values resulting from this blood test are below 5.7 percent, then your glucose levels are normal. Values between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent are considered prediabetes. Anything above 6.4 percent is diabetes. Fasting blood glucose of 100 to 125 mg/dL is also considered prediabetes.”

Risk factors for prediabetes include:

  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Weight gain.
  • Having family members with type 2 diabetes.
  • If your mother developed gestational diabetes while pregnant

“Over one-fourth of youth have issues with prediabetes due to a sedentary lifestyle and the widespread use of electronics and societal determinants, such as the lack of access to sidewalks or walking paths,” said Banerjee. 

What can be done?

“Parents are a vital link to preventing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, primarily by practicing and modeling healthy lifestyle behaviors,” Dr. Manmohan Kamboj, the chief of endocrinology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Healthline. “Parents are in a position to make sure healthy food and snack options are in the home.”

Kamboj suggests parents help their children by:

  • Practicing healthy cooking together as a family so kids can learn about healthy foods.
  • Staying away from fast foods and sugary drinks.
  • Encouraging water intake.
  • Looking at school lunches and recommending healthy choices.

Physical activity is also essential, and parents can help with this as well. 

“[Parents] can encourage and engage their children in family activities such as walks, runs, biking together, or swimming. They should choose activities they enjoy, increasing the likelihood that children will engage long-term. Limiting screen time at home is also important,” said Kamboj. 

How communities can help

“Healthy neighborhoods promote healthy lifestyles,” said Kamboj. “Parks, trails, playgrounds, and athletic areas increase physical activity.”

Community programs can also be a positive influence.

“Hosting health fairs and investing funding into school nutrition programs and working to ensure that community food banks have nutritious foods available for children,” says Banerjee.

According to a 2019 studyTrusted Source, office workers who walked just five minutes each hour reduced food cravings by lunchtime and regular aerobic exercise decreased overall food cravings.

Community parks and programs that promote activity help increase the health of their citizens.


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