World Diabetes Day - a reminder of the importance of a healthy balanced diet for children and young people
14 November is World Diabetes day. In the UK, an estimated 4.7 million people live with diabetes, about 90% of which will have type 2 diabetes (T2D). Most people living with T2D are over 40 but it is increasingly being diagnosed in young people under 25. Age, family history and ethnicity all increase the risk of developing T2D but obesity is the major modifiable risk factor.
In England, around two thirds of adults, a third of 10-11-year olds, and a fifth of four to five-year olds are living with overweight or obesity. Therefore, the key focus on the prevention of T2D must be on helping children and young people maintain or achieve a healthy weight into adulthood.
Obesity is a complex problem which is affected by individual, societal and environmental factors. We know it can be difficult to eat a healthy balanced diet when less healthy options are all around us. Government, businesses, health professionals, schools, local authorities, families and individuals all have a role to play. In particular, industry needs to take greater responsibility for the products it produces, market and sells.
Analysis of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey indicates that as a population, we need to eat more fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish to meet dietary recommendations. We consume too many calories (with some children who are living with overweight consuming up to 500 excess calories per day), as well as too much sugar, saturated fat and salt.
Helping children to develop healthy eating behaviours is not just about obesity though - it is also about enjoying a diverse range of foods and supporting healthy development such as good dental and bone health and iron status.
Breastfeeding gets babies off to the best start and represents the physiological norm for early infant feeding and boosts a baby’s ability to fight illness and infection. There is also growing evidence that not breastfeeding might increase the risk of obesity later in life.
Government recommendations on a healthy balanced diet are encapsulated in the UK’s national food model, the Eatwell Guide, and are based on the advice of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. The Eatwell Guide applies to most people over the age of 5 years. Between the age of 2 and 5, parents are advised to move their children towards the diet depicted in the Eatwell Guide.
Of course it’s not all about diet - it’s also really important for children and young people to be physically active - more information is on NHS.UK.
Finally, as the days shorten it’s a timely reminder that everyone (children included) should be taking a vitamin D supplement through the winter months for good bone and muscle health – more information is on NHS.UK.
Adrienne Cullum, PHE
“Our State of Child Health report published earlier this year highlighted that diabetes is an area where we have made huge strides. This is the result of a concerted effort from so many in this field, sharing what works and what doesn’t and continually striving to enhance the care of young people with diabetes.” – Professor Russell Viner (President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health)
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