Could that juice box increase your child’s risk for diabetes?

The next time you hand your child a juice box, consider this: are you increasing their risk for diabetes?

Sugary drinks are unhealthy food choices, advises Matthew Mathias, MD, medical director at Triangle Family Practice, a Duke Primary Care practice in Durham. When combined with a sedentary lifestyle, they are one of the main reasons why more children in the U.S. are considered at risk for obesity, and they are partly to blame for the rise in type 2 diabetes. But the prevalence of bad lifestyle habits can’t explain why type 1 diabetes is being diagnosed more frequently as well.

“We’ve also seen a 3 to 5 percent increase in type 1 diabetes cases worldwide,” says Mathias.

Several theories are being explored to explain the surge in type 1 diabetes. Exposure to a virus may damage the pancreatic cells responsible for making insulin. Evidence also suggests a connection between type 1 diabetes and early introduction of cow’s milk and solid foods in infants. “Milk and dairy products should not be given to infants before the age of one,” Mathias stresses, "and solid foods should not be started until about 4 months of age.”

Breast-feeding remains the best option for infants for many reasons, he adds, including data, which show it reduces a child’s risk for obesity.

While inheriting a genetic risk for diabetes can’t be prevented, you can take steps to minimize your risk of developing the disease at a young age. Encourage daily exercise for everyone, and stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy food choices including whole grain products with the barest minimum of added sugar, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Juice and calorie-laden drinks can be an occasional treat, not a daily serving.

If your family has a history of diabetes, or you see signs that may signal the condition, talk to your doctor. They include frequent urination, excessive thirst, visual changes, and dizziness, confusion or lethargy following a meal.

“If your child is overweight or considered obese based on their body mass index, they should be tested for diabetes and other health issues that may be overlooked,” says Mathias. "Lifestyle changes can start at any age.  Reducing your family's risk for diabetes should be a family endeavor.”

Written by Staff for Duke Medicine    |    Added February 6, 2014