Childhood Diabetes: Is Diet a Major Culprit?
June 30, 2000 -- Eating more meat and dairy products has been
linked to a higher rate of type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile diabetes),
and having a diet heavy in plant products -- especially cereals -- was tied to
less type 1 diabetes, a recent study suggests. So does this mean that serving
oatmeal instead of bacon cheeseburgers will prevent your child from getting
No, it's not that simple, experts say. Type 1 diabetes,
beginning in childhood and requiring insulin for treatment, probably arises
from the complex interaction of environmental influences and heredity. And the
role of dietary habits may begin in infancy and even during pregnancy.
However, "it is very encouraging that there appears to be a
relationship between diet and diabetes, because these may be modifiable risk
factors," says Robert P. Trevino, MD, who reviewed the study for WebMD. In
his research as director of the Social and Health Research Center in San
Antonio, he has found that nutrition and exercise may also play some role in
development of type 2 diabetes, which is different from type 1 and may not
require insulin treatment.
The study, which was reported in the June issue of the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows that food energy derived
from meat and dairy products is associated with higher risk of type 1 diabetes,
whereas food energy from vegetable sources, especially cereals, is associated
with lower risk. Total calorie intake did not predict diabetes risk.
"I'm fascinated by this report," says Peter Smail, MA,
BM, curator of the Scottish Study Group for the Care of Young Diabetics.
"Ever since I moved up the coast in East Scotland in 1980 and found ...
twice as many child diabetics in Aberdeen as Dundee, I've been obsessed by the
possible reasons for the steady and inexorable rise in child
In Smail's group, type 1 diabetes has been increasing by 2%
each year. Although genetic factors may be important, "the increase overall
has to be mainly environmental, with dietary factors prime candidates,"
says Smail. He explains that during 1940-1945, when food rationing was in
force, deaths from diabetes in Britain went down by 40%, and there were
virtually no new cases of diabetes in Scottish children.
Every day, 35 more American children are found to have type 1
diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Symptoms may include:
- Excessive thirst
- Constant hunger
- Frequent urination
- Sudden weight loss
- Sudden vision changes
- Rapid breathing
- Drowsiness or exhaustion
- Fruity odor on the breath
Insulin injections must be given to these children several
times each day to lower high blood sugar. This improves but does not cure the
disease and doesn't entirely prevent serious complications such as blindness,
heart attack, kidney failure, stroke, nerve damage, and amputations.