During the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals may have experienced stress, anxiety, grief, and worry, which can lead to a lack of sleep and poor nutrition. Concerns about mental health and physical wellness have grown due to fear of the virus, job loss, new rules and mandates, and transitions to virtual work and schooling. Now, the pandemic’s after-effects are providing evidence that there may be a link in children between diabetes and COVID-19.
According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes in children dramatically increased with more pediatric patients hospitalized from March to December 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. Stay-at-home orders led to weight gain due to limited physical activity, an increase in screen time and intake of processed foods.
“It was very concerning to see children develop type 2 diabetes. It’s a disease that’s normally seen in adults,” said Suzette Baez, MD, Pediatrician at Parkland Health. “In a six-month period, I was seeing children gain anywhere between 30-60 pounds. During the stay-at-home order, parents were working, and children were left eating unhealthy meals while learning from home. This served as a reminder, that some of these children depend on schools for nutritious meals.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people with diabetes. Individuals were at increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications or even worsening of diabetes symptoms if infected. New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also points out that children who recover from COVID-19 are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes after infection than those without COVID-19. There has also been a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial/ethnic minority groups for those aged less than 18 years who were also at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
Tuesday, March 22 is designated as National Diabetes Alert Day, an annual event created by the American Diabetes Association to help alert the public about the potentially life-threatening disease. The increase in cases among adults and now children is why providers at Parkland Health continue to educate the community about the disease that has been on the rise in Dallas county and the nation.
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and is associated with serious health complications like heart and kidney disease, blindness, and amputations. From 2001 to 2017, the number of people under age 20 living with type 1 diabetes increased by 45%, and the number living with type 2 diabetes grew by 95%, according to the CDC.
“Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at such a young age only means health complications can appear even sooner,” said Dr. Baez. “This has a big impact on the child that will affect their social environment.”
According to Kellie Rodriguez, RN, MSN, MBA, CDCES, Director of Global Diabetes & Infectious Diseases at Parkland, “there is an increasing frequency of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children and is an ongoing public health concern. Racial and ethnic disparities and COVID-19 impact has only raised that risk. One in three children born after 2000 and two in three children of ethnic minority (especially Hispanic and African American) are at risk for type 2 diabetes.”
So, what can you do to prevent or delay diabetes? According to Rodriguez, individuals should:
- Keep a healthy weight – if necessary, try to lose 5 to 7% of your body weight
- Eat well – learn to make healthier choices
- Be active – do some type of moderate physical activity daily
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Limiting screen time is also an important consideration for children, added Rodriguez.
“Even though there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, making these lifestyle changes can delay the disease onset and help people live longer and healthier lives,” said Rodriguez.
Parkland’s diabetes website is a valuable free resource for anyone interested in learning more about living with diabetes, as well as prevention. Available in both English and Spanish at www.parklanddiabetes.com, the website offers easy-to-access information about risk factors, nutrition, exercise, medication, support groups, a diabetes blog, and more.