By Dr. Mercola
The recent case of an American toddler diagnosed with type 2 diabetes highlights the severity of the problems our modern processed food diet causes. According to Reuters,1 the three-year old girl, who weighed in at 77 pounds, is one of the youngest persons ever diagnosed with this obesity-related disease.
In the past, type 2 diabetes was referred to as “adult onset” diabetes, and most patients were in the senior category. But as our diets and lifestyles have changed, so has the disease.
And, while lack of exercise is certainly a factor, one would be hard-pressed to accuse a two-year old of being too sedentary. Clearly, diet plays a more important role in individuals this young. So what’s wrong with children’s diets these days?
Many Babies Are Raised on Sugar
In short, most babies and toddlers are fed far too much sugar right from the start. Many parents fail to realize that infant formulas can contain significant amounts of added sugars and starchy fillers,2 which paves the way for chronic disease from day one.
Past investigations have also revealed trans fats — now known to promote heart disease — in some formulas, as well as genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, which are also suspected of causing obesity and health problems in the long term, primarily by promoting inflammation and disrupting gut flora.
Last year, data3 from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that more than 29 million Americans were diagnosed with full-blown type 2 diabetes,4 a statistic researchers predicted in 2001 wouldn’t be reached until 2050.5
A more recent study,6,7,8,9,10 which also for the first time included estimated disease rates for certain minority groups, suggests as much as HALF of the American public may have either prediabetes or diabetes.
Diabetes rates have also soared in other countries. In the UK, rates have risen by 60 percent in the last decade.11
When you start investigating the diets of babies and young children, these statistics become less surprising. In fact, they’re to be expected.
One in four Americans eats some type of fast food on a daily basis,12 and nearly half of the money Americans spend on food is spent on fast food meals.13 More than one-third of school-aged children and adolescent eat fast food on a daily basis.
As reported by Reuters:14
“More than 12 percent of the children and adolescents surveyed got over 40 percent of their calories from fast food, which was defined as ‘restaurant fast food/pizza,’ according to the data brief from the NCHS, a unit of the CDC.
‘It is certainly a significant amount and it would be more concerning if someone were not astonished by that number.
It is a sign we have some work to do to help families come up with practical solutions,’ said Dr. Esther Krych, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic's Children's Center...”
An estimated 56 percent of 8 year-olds also drink soda on a daily basis, and once the teenage years come, some kids drink at least three cans of soda a day.15
Analysis Confirms Fructose Is Primary Driver of Diabetes
Processed food and sugary beverages are now taking their toll on ever younger people as these younger generations are raised on such foods and drinks from a very early age, and this is why disease prevalence has exploded.
A meta-review published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings16,17,18 recently confirmed that calories from fructose (think high fructose corn syrup) and other added sugars are the primary drivers of prediabetes and diabetes.
Processed fructose and other added sugars not only worsen insulin levels and glucose tolerance, they also promote a number of different markers for poor health, including inflammation and hypertension (high blood pressure).
As a standard recommendation, I strongly advise keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, which is about six teaspoons. If you have no signs of insulin resistance you should be able to consume fruit liberally even though it has fructose.
If you have signs of insulin resistance such as hypertension, obesity, or heart disease, you’d be wise to limit your total fructose consumption to 15 grams or less until your weight and other health conditions have normalized.
According to this meta-review, the research clearly shows that once you reach 18 percent of your daily calories from sugar, there’s a two-fold increase in metabolic harm that promote prediabetes and diabetes.
Babies and toddlers really should have no added sugars at all. It’s completely non-essential for their growth and development. Breast milk is ideal, and even if you cannot breastfeed, there are far better alternatives than commercial infant formula.
Buying donor milk is one option. You can also make your own infant formula using whole ingredients like whole grass-fed raw milk or goat’s milk.
Antibiotics May Play a Role in Rising Diabetes Rates
According to a recent study,19,20 type 2 diabetics tend to have been more overexposed to antibiotics in the years prior to their diagnosis compared to non-diabetics.
This is yet another fast food factor that places young children at increased risk of diabetes and related health problems. Antibiotic overuse in food production has also led to the current scourge of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic exposure is one reason why I don’t recommend eating foods from factory farmed animals, as they tend to be raised on antibiotic growth promoters.
Each time you or your child eat food made from such animals, you’re getting a small dose of antibiotics that, over time with regular consumption, can upset your gut flora and have a notable impact on your weight and metabolism.21
While a small number of restaurants have taken steps to limit meat raised on antibiotics, the vast majority of fast food restaurants and major restaurant chains have not.
A recent report22,23,24 produced by six consumer interest, public health, and environmental organizations warn that 20 of the 25 restaurant chains surveyed have failed to take any affirmative action on this issue, and are still serving meat and poultry raised on antibiotics. Chipotle’s and Panera Bread were the only two restaurants, according to this report, that publicly affirm the majority of the meats served come from antibiotic-free producers.
Pesticides in Processed Food Also Raise Diabetes Risk
Pesticides and herbicides are another factor that has now started to come to the fore as a major driver of chronic disease — including diabetes. According to a recent analysis25,26,27 of 21 studies, exposure to pesticide — regardless of type — was associated with a 61 percent increased risk for any type of diabetes. Twelve of the studies focused on type 2 diabetes specifically, linking pesticide exposure to a 64 percent increased risk of this type of diabetes.
"This systematic review supports the hypothesis that exposure to various types of pesticides increases the risk of diabetes,” the authors wrote, adding that: "Analyzing each pesticide separately suggests that some pesticides are more likely to contribute to the development of diabetes than others.”
Among the pesticides more clearly linked to diabetes were:
Chlordane Oxychlordane Trans-nonachlor DDT DDE Dieldrin Heptachlor HCB
Toxic Glyphosate May Be a Major Health Threat in Food Supply
One of the most widely used herbicides in the US is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. In late March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), reclassified28 glyphosate as a Class 2A “probable human carcinogen,” based on evidence showing it can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lung cancer in humans.
Previous research has also linked glyphosate to an increased diabetes risk, along with a slew of other chronic health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, which some believe may be yet another form of diabetes — basically “brain diabetes.” Swedish researchers recently confirmed that controlling your blood sugar levels appear to be an important aspect of dementia prevention for type 2 diabetics, who are at an increased risk for neurological degeneration.
The study included nearly 350,000 people, and blood sugar levels were tracked using hemoglobin A1C tests. This newer type of test provides you with an average blood sugar level over the past several months. As reported by MedicineNet.com:29 “After taking other variables into account, the study found that those with HbA1c levels of 10.5 percent or higher were 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared to people with HbA1c levels of 6.5 percent or less.”
Make Your Family’s Nutrition a Priority
It’s important to keep offering healthy foods to your child, even if they refuse them or seem to not like them. It can take 10 to 15 food exposures before a child becomes familiar with and likes a certain food, so persistence is important. Food is a part of crucial lifestyle choices first learned at home, so you need to educate yourself about proper nutrition and the dangers of junk food and processed foods in order to change the food culture of your entire family.
To give your child the best start in life and help instill healthy habits that will last a lifetime, you must lead by example. If you're not sure where to start, I recommend reading through my nutrition plan. This will provide you with the foundation you need to start making healthy food choices for your family. You can find even more help in the book I wrote on the subject, Generation XL: Raising Healthy, Intelligent Kids in a High-Tech, Junk-Food World.
Bring Back Home-Cooked Meals
One of the basic keys to good health and disease prevention is to eat real food... This may be particularly true for diabetes prevention, as processed foods and fast food contain not just one but several components shown to promote metabolic dysfunction and obesity.
This includes processed fructose and other added sugars, trans fats, antibiotics, and pesticides, along with other artificial ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners and MSG. A 2012 study found that both of these additives cause an increase in fasting blood glucose levels and contribute to the onset of diabetes. When it comes to meat, it’s important to make sure it’s antibiotic-free and organically raised.
Ditto for other animal products like dairy and eggs. While some grocery chains offer grass-fed meats nowadays, your best bet is to connect with a local farmer that raises animals according to organic standards, allowing them to roam freely on pasture. Other foods are also best sourced from organic and local sources, to avoid undue pesticide exposure. In the US, the following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods:
Weston Price Foundation30 has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter. Local Harvest – This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Farmers' Markets – A national listing of farmers' markets. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals – The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) – CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms. FoodRoutes – The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.