Diabetes and the Younger Generation

December 5, 2007

First the bad news: the onset of type 2 diabetes appears to be rapidly increasing for people in their twenties. This is an age group that most doctors traditionally wouldn’t think about diagnosing for diabetes, but the evidence shows that it is now a serious factor.

Diabetes Care magazine this week ran a report from the University of Michigan study that showed there had been a 40 per cent increase in hospitalisations related to diabetes among those aged 20 to 29. Joyce Lee, M.D. and her colleagues studied data from the period 1993 to the end of 2004 and one of the conclusions they reached was that this huge increase probably was reflecting the physiological connection between obesity and type 2 diabetes. Throughout the Western world, and particularly in the USA and UK, there has been an unprecedented rise in childhood obesity. This is due to the change in diet, which has many youngsters consuming far more empty calories from snacks such as crisps and carbonated soft drinks, and this has unfortunately been mirrored by a corresponding decrease in physical exercise and activity.

Interestingly the rate of increase of childhood diabetes has remained fairly stable, leading to the possible conclusion that damage done in childhood from diet takes some time to take effect, and that most people on leaving school undertake far less exercise than they did when younger.

Now the good news: do you know anyone under the age of 30 without a mobile phone? Texting is as automatic as breathing to most young people, so some health practices are taking advantage of this to track individuals with acute and chronic medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes. This group may not respond well to conventional follow up methods, but they always check their messages so this one way to ensure that the message about medication and specific health practices is getting through. For example, in one study in Scotland, young diabetics could send a text message to their doctor to check how to modify their insulin treatment after eating certain foods, or drinking alcohol at a party.


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