Last updated 05:00 13/09/2012
Calls for strict food regulations - such as banning takeaway shops near schools - have emerged as evidence shows children are getting fatter and developing diabetes earlier.
Sedentary lifestyles were a contributing factor, but what people ate played a big part, Gabrielle Jenkin, of Otago University's public health department, told the Diabetes Nurse Specialist Symposium in Wellington yesterday.
Labelling would help control "manipulated" food that was higher in fat, salt and sugar to make it more palatable.
Schools and councils could also play a bigger role by reducing the amount of high-energy low-nutrient food at tuck shops, cafes and vending machines. They should also make healthy options more affordable, Dr Jenkin said.
Fast-food-free zones around schools could combat pupils buying pies and fizzy at lunchtime, she said.
Alarming statistics were presented at the symposium in Wellington, showing more and more young people were classed as overweight and obese, putting then at risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
People who cannot make insulin are classed as type-1 diabetics. Those with type 2 make insulin, but the production is sluggish or their body is resistant to it.
Wellington diabetes nurse specialist Kirsty Newton told the symposium it was not until the mid-1990s that type-2 diabetes began to emerge in children and teenagers.
"Very little" was being done to prevent diabetes - even health professionals were avoiding tackling it and passing the buck to colleagues, Capital & Coast District Health Board diabetes nurse specialist Lorna Bingham said.
A GP had told her that school nurses were responsible for prevention, but a school nurse said they had plenty of other serious health issues to combat in the short time they had at schools.
The recently published Health Ministry Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People found 8 per cent of children between 2 and 14 were obese and 21 per cent were overweight; 14 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 were obese and 24 per cent overweight.
"Obesity in childhood is not a benign condition, it has huge health and social implications," Ms Bingham said.
In 1996, 1.8 per cent of adolescents had type-2 diabetes in Auckland; in 2002 the figure had risen to 11 per cent.
Nurses are fighting an uphill battle with a teenage diabetic who smokes, eats takeaways daily, and doesn't take her medication.
The unnamed girl was diagnosed by chance with type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to obesity, at the age of 16. At 72kg, she was considered overweight, but not obese.
Diabetes nurse specialists have advised her to ditch fizzy drinks and eat takeaways only once a week. They also suggested she eat breakfast.
Her school nurse is attempting to help by getting her to see a dietitian. The diabetes nurses are struggling to educate her family, who are unhappy about her taking insulin because they see it as a last-ditch effort before death.
This case study highlights the barriers to managing diabetes and was presented at the Diabetes Nurse Specialist Symposium yesterday.
- The Dominion Post