A newly released, federally-funded study looked at how newly-diagnosed Type 2 diabetes teen patients were able to manage their blood sugar levels. The question posed was whether diabetic teens could best manage their blood sugar levels using a single medication, a combination of two medications, or with the first medication plus diet and exercise counseling.
Of course, regular readers of my blog may be screaming as I did: “What about looking at the effects of custom-tailored dietary changes plus exercise and psychological counseling and not put all our hopes into a pharmaceutical solution that will never lead to a cure for the patient? Type 2 diabetes is often a lifestyle disease!” But they didn’t.
We must assume the “dietary counseling” reflected current standards of “healthy diets,” such as suggestions to reduce fat and sodium, choose “Diet,” “sugar-free,” and “low-fat” products, and count calories. Packaged “diet” foods contain such toxic ingredients as Aspartame and glutimase to make the “free” foods taste better. Making a habit of eating such fake and processed foods without nutritional benefits likely isn’t helping the kids to feel sated or have more energy or to lose weight. If drinking a Diet Coke actually helped you lose weight we’d have seen a lot more reversals of Type 2 diabetes in the study.
We don’t know if those in charge of the diet portion considered what the kids themselves might be have lost oral tolerance to, or if they designed customized recipes for personalized anti-inflammatory diets that were based in the reality of what these kids have available and find desirable. If the suggested foods aren’t appealing or available, how can we expect obese teens to choose them, even if the alternative has dire consequences including vision loss, nerve damage, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and even amputation?
In my opinion, the reason most “diets” fail is because the dieter finds them to be unsustainable. That is: they might know what foods they “shouldn’t” eat, but they also don’t know what foods they “should” eat, and they don’t have good ideas for “healthy foods” that they can access regularly and easily. Let’s look at reality: the statistics show that most teen obesity-diabetes diagnoses are in low-income populations. These populations might not have easy access to fresh produce or healthy cooking techniques. What does it matter if you know you should be eating more fruits and vegetables if the best you can get at your local 7-11 is a chili-cheese hot dog or a frozen burrito? The last time I checked, one in seven Americans eats at least one meal a day from a convenience store.
Here in the Mile High City, the 2010 2040 Partners for Health survey showed a dearth of stores carrying fresh produce in the poorest parts of town. They named these areas “food desserts”. And the grocery stores that do exist near lower-income neighborhoods often have the highest prices overall of other stores in the same chain in our city. It’s an interesting fact to ponder as we wonder why our poorer neighborhoods are blighted by crime and disrepair. How can we expect people to raise quality families when they can’t find or afford to purchase the basic foods to nourish growing bodies?
Type 2 diabetes and the nation’s “diabesity” epidemic are intertwined with socio-economic factors that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But let’s leave that all aside and let me tell you what this NIH study did find: the newly-diagnosed diabetic teens who took a combination of drugs fared the best, while the other two groups fared about equally. The problem, the study’s authors noted, is that the second drug in the combination raises the risk of heart attack and is therefore not advisable. It’s easy to forget that pharmaceuticals are, by definition, genetically-engineered molecules that our bodies often view as toxic. That’s why we can have “side effects” from taking medicinal drugs. During the course of this study, 20% of the teens enrolled experienced serious complications that landed them in the hospital.
Dr. David Allen of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, notes that the “discouraging” results point to the need to create “a healthier ‘eat less, move more’” culture to help avoid obesity that contributes to diabetes. While I think it may be more about what kinds of foods you’re eating rather than how much food you’re eating (are you gorging on carrot sticks or on Milk Duds?), I agree that diet and exercise are the key.
If you or your child were diagnosed with Type 2, diabetes, I would think that the first direction you would want to turn would be toward a healthier diet and regular exercise. A plethora of studies have shown that diet and exercise alone can reverse later-onset diabetes, and the main goal should be to keep your kid healthy. Personally, I believe these things are most successful when the entire household participates, i.e., everyone eats the same dinner.
If you can’t seem to find that magic “diet” that your kid can sustain as a “lifestyle”, because this needs to be a life-long endeavor, you might consider talking to a qualified nutritionist or registered dietitian (RD) who can help you learn to grocery shop and cook while designing realistic menus that your kid might actually eat. Then you might start to see real changes in the health of your child and reverse the tragic obesity-diabetes path.