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Health Talk 

About 17 million people in the United States have diabetes, and about 90 percent to 95 percent have Type II, which develops over time and previously was a predominantly adult disease. As Americans get fatter and pay less attention to proper diet and exercise regimens, the number of children who develop Type II diabetes has increased alarmingly. Darby Berthelot, executive director for Southern Louisiana American Diabetes Association (3340 Severn Ave., Suite 360, Metairie, 889-0279; www.diabetes.org) discusses children and diabetes. The association is sponsoring a 5K/1-mile walk/run at 9 a.m. Nov. 15 at Newman Bandstand in Audubon Park to raise funds for research and education and increase awareness about the disease.

Q: How prevalent is diabetes in children?

A: Recent reports indicate that 30 to 40 percent of the children diagnosed with diabetes have Type II.

Q: Is that mostly genetic or the result of diet, exercise and lifestyle?

A: It's a metabolic disorder in which the body is unable to make enough or use insulin (produced in the pancreas). Eighty percent of the children being diagnosed with Type II diabetes are overweight at the time of diagnosis. Actually there is a relationship between obesity, lack of exercise and proper diet.

Q: What are the consequences of diabetes?

A: It could lead to all the normal complications that Type I diabetics can sustain as far as kidney disease, heart disease, circulation problems, blindness.

Q: What are the treatments?

A: Generally with Type II diabetes, usually (it can be controlled) by doing management as far as balancing food and medication. If patients are overweight, (health care providers) will go over a diabetes plan with their overall health care plan. Even if they aren't overweight, they often can control the diabetes just with diet and medication. The more the kids get active and participate -- in not just sports but just going out and walking or mowing the lawn, anything that raises the heartbeat -- the more calories they burn up and the more their body will use insulin and the more often their blood sugar will be in their target range.

Q: Do these treatments have adverse affects?

A: About 75 percent of kids who have Type II diabetes may develop something referred to as "dirty neck." Some people become insulin resistant and the insulin builds up in their body and they'll get a dirty (darkened) looking spot around their neck and in their armpits. It's called Acanthosis Nigricans.

Q: How can you prevent diabetes?

A: The daily management of diabetes requires that they balance their food, their daily activity. It can be managed and prevented through healthy eating and exercise. With all the age of technology and electronics and computers, DVDs and everything like this, kids are spending more time in the house and watching TV. Kids aren't getting the exercise we did as kids.

Q: I heard a report on the radio this week that said studies show that many 2-year-olds consume hardly any fruits and vegetables and basically are eating a bad fast-food diet usually seen in middle age. What's up with that?

A: I would believe that one for sure. Today with our crazy lifestyle, it's so hectic that it's easier to go through the (fast-food) drive-through. I think, too, it's the awareness issue. I don't think parents are aware their kids could become a Type II diabetic. We focus on research both in Type I and Type II and offer programs to both because the numbers have increased so much. ... We are going into the schools and teaching children about diabetes. ... After the three years we've done this, we find the kids are diagnosing themselves. They're going home and saying "Mom, I'm having excessive thirst and frequent urination; we learned about diabetes at school and I think I might have it." It's really a positive thing.

Q: With the increasing numbers of diabetes in youngsters, do you foresee a glucose level test becoming part of routine checkups?

A: There's a lot of debate about that right now. In the last legislative session a bill was introduced saying that children should be tested at school. The problem with that is ... with that type of mass testing and the large numbers of children, if someone has a high glucose level, who's going to do the follow-up? You might have just one school nurse facilitating six schools. You don't really have someone to do all the follow-up and education.

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