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CLEVELAND — Obesity may be a problem among America’s youth, but doctors say the battle of the bulge if fueling another disease: type 2 diabetes.

“Since the 1980’s, obesity in the United States has tripled and by the 2000’s, we have one in three Cleveland children and kids across the country who are obese or seriously struggle with overweight,” said Dr. Ellen Rome, head of adolescent medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital. “And type 2 diabetes is a part of that.”

A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics says that one of every four youth in the U.S. is diabetic or pre-diabetic.

“You can’t eat grease all day,” said Dionne McKenzie of Cleveland. “You can eat fat all day and sugar all day, so I think that more families should put more food on the table.”

McKenzie, a mother of two – with another on the way, said she understands the challenges local families may face, especially with today’s economy.

“My daughter’s vegetarian and I’m trying to eat healthier, too,” she said. “I’m looking at Amish meats, buying healthier meats. It is expensive to eat healthy, but I think small changes to try to eat healthier is better than no changes at all.”

More than 3,600 American kids are diagnosed with the disease each year. But Rome said a challenge doctors face is treating children. Research shows traditional treatments used on adults only work in half of children with type 2 diabetes.

“Type 2 diabetes is the perfect storm of nature and nurture,” Rome said. “So the genetic predisposition is there, and when you get the environmental circumstances of too much not being a good thing. That’s the scenario when they’re eating more than their energy needs and not burning it off in a way that’s not useful for their body.”


Those who’ve had family members with type 2 diabetes are at risk. Rome said those who’ve struggled with obesity or hyperlipidemia are also at risk.

Rome said signs of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children are frequent thirst and urination. With type 2 diabetes, often many people are overweight are susceptible to the disease. She also said to be on the lookout for velvety skin on the back of the neck, under the arms and in the groin area. The change in the skin’s texture is the body’s marker for insulin resistance, Rome said.


It’s important to seek medical treatments, Rome said. Through a well-balanced diet and exercise, however, the disease is manageable.

“Type 2 diabetes, treated well, can be a non-problem,” she said. “You can actually get your sugars to normal, you can get your weight to normal, you can get your approach to wellness to perpetuate those changes. It just takes a village and community effort and family effort and individual kid effort to make that happen.”