It’s a well-known fact: Childhood obesity puts kids at risk for type 2 diabetes. But what if your little one is at a perfectly healthy weight? Are there other ways to predict if they might develop diabetes as an adult?
While we don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into the future, a new study did reveal that young children can sometimes show signs of being prone to adult diabetes—decades before it’s likely to be diagnosed.
For the study, researchers collected blood samples from participants at ages 8, 16, 18, and 25. After analyzing the data, they found a clear warning sign for adult diabetes: abnormal cholesterol levels.
In susceptible children, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol appeared as early as 8 years old. As the study participants grew older, low HDL levels continued to be a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Other warning signs? Increased inflammation and—predictably—high body mass index.
Keep in mind, this is just one study. And the authors even admit that more research is needed. Still, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your child’s cholesterol test results. Kids should receive their first test between ages 9 and 11. After that, they should be tested again every 5 years.
If your child’s HDL levels are low, ask the pediatrician for advice on how to raise the numbers. Tips might include lifestyle changes such as:
Choosing healthy fats. Serve your kids unsaturated fats—found in foods like avocados, nuts, and tuna. Cut back on saturated and trans fats. For example: full-fat dairy products, processed foods, and baked goods.
Eating more high-fiber foods. Good choices include apples, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, black beans, and whole wheat bread.
Exercising daily. Children need at least 60 minutes of activity every day. Get them moving by taking a walk after dinner, starting a dance party, or playing outside.
These changes can also help keep your child’s inflammation levels and body weight in check.
The takeaway: Diabetes doesn’t develop overnight. Knowing what signs to look for gives parents and pediatricians an opportunity to intervene earlier and instill healthy habits at a young age.