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By Tricia Summers for LIFELines

Overweight kids have got a lot more to worry about these days than being teased by their peers.

With child and adolescent obesity at record highs, risks have moved beyond mere weight issues and have entered the realm of serious medical complications.   Diabetes is among the most prevalent consequences of these unhealthy lifestyle choices in American youth.  The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion estimates that diabetes affects approximately 151,000 under the age of 20.  What's worse, Type 1 Diabetes (more commonly known as juvenile-onset diabetes) isn't the only form affecting today's children.  Incidences of Type 2 Diabetes--once known as adult-onset diabetes--has been on the rise over the last 20 years. This is largely a result of sedentary activities becoming the norm and a devastating combination of poor diet and poor exercise. 

"When I did my training in pediatrics in 1992, we didn't even talk about Type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Maura B. Price, MD/FCRCP/FAAP, a pediatrician in Waterboro, Maine.  "We wouldn't even talk about using the adult-types of diabetes medications in children.  Now, fifteen years later, absolutely." 

Because Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, understanding its causes and implications are of critical importance to families.  The American Obesity Association estimates that 15.3% of children ages 6 to 11 and 15.5% of adolescents’ ages 12 to 19 are obese.  Compared to rates of 7% and 5% respectively in 1980, juvenile obesity has become a serious issue.  And with the exception of genetic predisposition, the majority of the causes of obesity and Type 2 diabetes are preventable.

Combating the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle with regular exercise is one of the primary steps families can take to keep their children healthy. 

It's easy to assume that most children have boundless levels of energy and love to play outside, but have a look at the activities that many of today's youth prefer to engage in.  Television and video games take up time that could be spent on physical activities such as riding bicycles, playing basketball, or swimming.  The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that a whopping 43% of adolescents watch more than two hours of television every single day.  And with the unprecedented popularity of web sites like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook, the number of hours kids spend in front of a computer screen on a daily basis is astounding.  As a result, Dr. Price considers the Department of Health and Human Services' two-hour estimate conservative.  

"You've got to look at total screen time, including the computer screen," Price said.  "Kids don't play outside, and parents work, so kids are spending more and more time home alone [being sedentary]."  

Gym class and recess can't be counted on for exercise these days, either.   "The whole focus at school is off of exercise," Price said.  "When I was growing up, you had phys ed a minimum of three times per week."  Many American high schools have cut their physical education requirement to a scant two or three semesters by graduation, sometimes even less.  Add it all up and it's plain to see why most young people are not meeting the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendation of 60 minutes of moderate daily exercise. 

"Most have little or no exercise," Price said, "so try and get them to commit to at least three periods of 30 minutes per week where they break a sweat." 


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