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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 13:21 GMT
Diabetes threat to children
Obesity
Obesity is an increasing problem
The first cases of adult-type diabetes have been found in overweight white children in the UK.

The disclosure provides highly disturbing evidence of the threat to health posed by growing levels of obesity in the developed world.

It has also prompted a warning that rising rates of obesity among the young will place a serious burden on the health service in years to come.

But a spokesman for the Department of Health said initiatives were already in place to combat obesity in young and old.


We need a major initiative to combat the increasing obesity of our childhood population

Dr Julian Shield
Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common in overweight older adults, who are at significantly increased risk of developing the disease.

It occurs when fat and muscle cells in particular lose their sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose.

Genes play their part, but it is usually caused by diet.

Type 2 diabetes is rare in children, and so far has only been diagnosed in those from ethnic minority groups, who are known to be at greater risk.

A paper published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood describes four cases of white adolescents referred to two treatment centres in the south west of England.

The three girls and one boy were aged between 13 and 15. All of them were very overweight.

Heart risk

Professor Edwin Gale
Professor Edwin Gale said parents should set a good example
Normally, children diagnosed with diabetes have the type 1 form, which is caused by a malfunction of the immune system.

However, the researchers warn that type 2 diabetes is likely to become increasingly common in children.

The condition increases the risk of heart disease and could have a major long term impact on the health service.

Researcher Dr Julian Shield told BBC News Online: "We need a major initiative to combat the increasing obesity of our childhood population.

"Children have too many snacks, too much refined, easy access food and take far too little exercise both at school and at home.


The potential long-term impact of this is frightening

Bill Hartnett
"They do not play outside anymore they watch television and play computer games."

Bill Hartnett of Diabetes UK said: "These cases confirm a very worrying trend.

"Type 2 diabetes in children is already recognised as a major problem in the United States.

"Unless we take action now to have our children eating a more healthy diet and doing more exercise we will follow the American example.

"The potential long-term impact of this is frightening, both in terms of impact on the children and the cost of dealing with it."

But a spokesman for the Department of Health said the government was tackling nutritional standards in school meals and was operating a scheme to give free fruit to schoolchildren.

Ethnic differences

"Obviously this is a worrying trend but we are taking action across the board to deal with obesity and improve nutrition, he said.


These children have a reduced chance of having a natural, happy, healthy life, and they are likely to be on medication for years to come

Professor Edwin Gale
Dr Shield said it was possible that Asian children were more at risk of obesity, and therefore diabetes, because of their genetic heritage.

Historically, food has been in short supply in the Asian sub-continent, and Dr Shield speculated that people whose genetic make-up allowed them to lay down fat readily were more likely to thrive.

However, when transferred to the UK, where food availability is little problem, this ability was more likely to make people prone to obesity.

Professor Edwin Gale, an expert in diabetes, told the BBC: "These cases represent the thin of a very large wedge.

"These children have a reduced chance of having a natural, happy, healthy life, and they are likely to be on medication for years to come."

Professor Gale said it was important that parents set a good example by taking exercise themselves.

The research was carried out by teams from the Royal Hospital for Children, Bristol, and Southampton University Hospitals Trust.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Karen Allen
"There is a lot of pressure for children to get in to shape"
Researcher Dr Julian Shield
"It is related to the increase in child obesity"
Bill Hartnett of Diabetes UK
"One of the driving factors pushing up cases is being overweight"
Professor Edwin Gale, Southmead Hospital, Bristol
"We have seen it coming for years"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Obesity
Are our children becoming couch potatoes?
See also:

05 Jan 01 | Health
Childhood obesity soars in UK
27 Nov 01 | Health
Diabetes heart death warning
10 Jun 01 | Health
Diabetes deaths 'unnecessary'
14 Jan 02 | Health
Simple test for diabetes
09 Feb 99 | Medical notes
Diabetes
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