Gone are the days when Type 2 diabetes used to be the disease of the older generation. Now, doctors are alarmed at the increasing diagnoses of the disease among kids and young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 in Nigeria.
Predictions by experts shows that if the trend continues, population of young adults and children with Type 2 diabetes may be higher than that of older diabetes-afflicted Nigerian citizens.
They have identified obesity, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits as some of the factors responsible for the rising incidence of Type 2 diabetes affliction among Nigerian children.
Speaking on this development, a consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist, Dr. Abiola Oduwole, says the rate at which adolescents are being diagnosed with the disease, which usually occurs in adults above 50 years, gives medical experts cause for concern.
According to him, a person is said to have diabetes when there is a high concentration of glucose, a converted form of sugar, in his blood due to inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin (Type 2) or when there is no insulin (Type 1) to convert excess glucose to the nutrients that the body cells can absorb.
“In the past, we used to see Type 1 diabetes in children, which is genetic. Now we are seeing more Type 2, which usually occurs only in adults, in children as young as 10 years or 12 years. If we are not careful we will be have an epidemic of childhood diabetes soon.”
The endocrinologist notes that if tertiary hospitals are attending to three or four of children with Type 2 diabetes now, then the number of undiagnosed cases of the disease in a country like Nigeria, which lacks structure for detecting diseases early, could be quite alarming.
She blames the disappearing culture of eating home cooked meals and the love for junk food among children for this looming disaster. The specialist says that children living in cities where junk food is the norm are particularly at risk.
Oduwole says that diabetes in the young became a cause for worry after studies conducted by her department in some schools in the Surulere area of Lagos revealed that 16 per cent of the children were overweight and at a pre-diabetic stage and 13 per cent were entering hypertensive stages, while the others had abnormal glucose level, which is a predisposing factor to developing Type 2 diabetes.
She quickly adds that children could however not be blamed for this trend, but rather, the government, parents and schools should wake up to their responsibility to save the younger population.
According to Oduwole, a further probe into the families of obese kids and children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes revealed that their parents belonged to the high or middle class.
She says that this is a clear indication that parents were not giving their kids the right foods.
“Parents no longer insist that children must eat before they go to school. They will rather give them money to buy whatever they feel like eating, which is naturally sugary food and fatty foods at that age because they are busy. So the kids get fatter and they become overweight. It is simple logic. Home cooked meals are fast disappearing on our tables. Almost every street in Lagos has a fast foods restaurant where parents and their kids have their daily meals.”
She notes that most schools and residential areas in the urban areas lack recreational facilities where children could play and burn off excess calories, hence they accumulate in their bodies causing great harm to their health.
“It is now so bad that most schools, especially those in the urban areas, do not have a tangible playground. So they convert it to another class. The streets in the cities are not safe. Technology has taken the attention of parents and children. Some parents would prefer their kids to stay indoors and play video games or watch television rather than play outside the house.”
Diabetes specialist, Prof. Anthonia Ogbera, says that since children have come to matter in the present diabetes epidemic, parents and government must take their roles seriously and join hands to curb the ugly trend. She identifies ignorance, poor awareness and misinterpretation of symptoms as the factors responsible for the late detection of diabetes.
“Mothers must be vigilant. Type 2 diabetes may not present obvious symptoms. If a child bedwets constantly, wakes up several times in the night to use the toilet or if he or she is always hungry despite eating large quantities of food, you must screen that child for diabetes.”
She recommends that schools should include blood glucose screening in their health programmes for pupils, to detect those with diabetes early.