JIS News

Like most adolescents, 14-year old Nicholas is very active and sociable. He enjoys playing tennis, singing in his school choir and hanging out with his best friend. On the surface, he appears as normal as any other child his age.
But, over the last eight years, the youngster has been living with a chronic condition, that of Type 1 diabetes.
Theresa Brodber tells JIS News that her son developed the condition because of a problem with his endocrine system. This integrated system of glands releases hormones, which are instrumental in regulating metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, and also plays a part in the mood. “Nicholas has what we call an endocrine problem .so he has to be on a pill for the rest of his life,” she informs. “Diabetes is one of the other things that can happen when you have this kind of problem,” she points.
She tells JIS News that the diagnosis came when Nicholas “got really very sick with a high temperature that we really couldn’t get rid of. We took him to the doctor and it got worse, and we took him to hospital and we were told he had diabetes. I almost lost him; he went into a coma.”
After learning about her son’s condition, Mrs. Brodber says she took steps to improve the entire family’s lifestyle. “We had to do a lot of exercise. He has to eat six meals a day, three big meals and three snacks. It’s a whole new regime because we have all had to change our diet, and we are not any worse off for it because it helps him to keep a healthy lifestyle,” she asserts.
She remains very upbeat about her son’s condition. “He is not any different. He is a typical 14 year-old, and the only thing is that he has to take insulin twice a day to live a normal life,” she says.
Nicholas is representative of the thousands of Jamaicans, who suffer from diabetes or sugar. The condition develops when the body does not produce or properly use insulin, which results in a high blood sugar level. The disease is incurable and affected persons learn to manage their condition through medication and lifestyle changes. Diabetes and other chronic illnesses account for more than 50 per cent of all deaths in Jamaica.
Increasing, more adolescents and children are developing the condition, with some as young as two years old. In children, diabetes manifests itself in several ways – frequency of thirst and urination; bed wetting; weight loss; sores that are slow to heal; tingling in the feet; dry, itchy skin; and tiredness and weakness.
Endocrinologist, Dr. Michael Bowen, explains that there are two types of diabetes – Type 1, which is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes – is diagnosed mostly in children and Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes, which is more prevalent in adults. “In Type1 diabetes, the child sustains a viral infection, which causes the body’s immune system to destroy the cells that produce insulin in the body and so within days or weeks, they have almost no insulin being produced in the body. This is what people refer to as the insulin-dependent diabetes. They need insulin immediately or they go into a coma. It is life threatening,” he points out.
According to Dr. Bowen, “Type 2 diabetes has a lot of lifestyle components associated with it. Things in your lifestyle can help to precipitate the insulin resistance. So for example, if you gain a lot of weight, it will make your insulin resistant and produces Type 2 diabetes.”
Having a diabetic child or adolescent may be overwhelming for a parent, but Dr. Bowen points out however, that there are several ways to prevent and control the condition. This includes eating healthy foods, getting lots of exercise, checking the body’s blood glucose level regularly, and by taking all prescribed medications.
Children with diabetes should follow a regular meal plan that supplies them with all the required nutrients that the body needs while reducing and preventing obesity. “We are seeing more and more diabetes in children and the push factors seems to be being physically inactive and being overweight.
Parents should reduce the snacking component, replace juices and sodas with water and less chips and cookies,” Dr. Bowen advises.
“More and more of our foods are loaded with fat, salt and calories. It is very easy for individuals to put on weight, and this pushes you into Type 2 diabetes. and so lifestyle is very important especially in children,” he continues.
Additionally, parents should ensure that their child is physically active. “As a society, we don’t walk as much because we have cars and buses. We don’t go outside as much because of the love of television or the computer or even the fear of going outside because of crime, but this lifestyle does help to precipitate diabetes in children,” he points out.
“Get that child up and out. Get that child moving,” he urges parents. “Reduce the time they spend in front of a television screen, the computer screen, the telephone.spend more of the time being physically active.”
Parents, he notes, have absolutely no reason to be distressed if their child has been diagnosed with the condition, as their child can lead normal lives. “Try and give that child a quality of life that is no different from a child who does not have diabetes,” Dr. Bowen says, pointing out that while the child will need to regularly test his/her blood sugar level and take insulin, “when all of this is done properly, that child can achieve their fullest potential whether academically or in sporting activities or socially”. A close relationship between the child’s family and his doctor and a nutritionist, Dr. Bowen says, is also vital in controlling the condition.
In the meantime, Nicholas admits that while the disease can be challenging at times, overall, he leads a very normal life by taking his medication and controlling his food intake.
“I don’t overeat and I have things in proportion, and I don’t eat a lot of sweet things.I just control what I eat,” he tells JIS News.