Nine years ago, when Maria Alequin was diagnosed with type II diabetes, it was unusual to find that form of the disease in children. At the time, she was 12 years old and weighed 180 pounds, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.
"I used to eat ice cream and cake for breakfast, before going to school," says Alequin.
Now New York's Columbia University Diabetes Center helps Alequin with her diet. She also takes medicine to control her condition.
In the decade since Maria was first diagnosed, doctors here and around the country have discovered a disturbing trend. Dr. Robin Goland says that doctors are seeing this disease in younger and younger people.
"Twenty percent of new cases of diabetes of children and adolescents appear to be the type II or the adult form of diabetes," she says.
Unlike type I diabetes, which is genetically inherited, type II usually occurs after a decade of bad eating habits and lack of exercise. An intense investigation is underway to determine why.
Good diet is an important tool to fight diabetes and control the high blood-sugar levels caused by the body's inability to either use or produce insulin, the hormone that processes blood sugar, explains CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.
"It is very important that children, especially in families where there is diabetes or obesity, eat a balanced diet and avoid gaining weight," Goland says.
Blacks and Hispanics are especially susceptible. In Tallahassee, Fla., 17-year old Daniel Barber is learning how to eat healthy and adjust to a lifelong condition, most commonly treated with insulin.
"I didn't want it, was my reaction. But it's something that you have to learn to live with," he says.
Untreated type II diabetes can lead to heart attacks, strokes, amputations, and blindness. In the early stages, there are no symptoms, which is why some experts are recommending tests for at-risk children -- those who are overweight or who have relatives with type II diabetes.
Alequin knows that because she has diabetes, her young daughter is at risk for the disease. She hopes to break the link between bad eating habits and bad health.
"That's why I control her from eating a lot of sweets," says Alequin.
Guess that means no ice cream for breakfast.
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff