Type 2 diabetes epidemic among U.S. kids worsens

diabetes, guida
A child whose face has been blurred to protect his identity has his blood pressure checked during a checkup.
CBS News

(CBS News) There is a growing epidemic among American children, and now there is a new recommendation on how hundreds of thousands of those kids should be treated.

The problem is type 2 diabetes, and it is a problem that is confounding more doctors, families, and health care professionals every day.

CBS News correspondent Tony Guida reports type 2 diabetes was never seen in young people as recently as 15 years ago. Now it's occurring with alarming frequency. Doctors know that a major risk factor is obesity. Beyond that, they were mostly in the dark about this disease.

"Very little is known about the right way to both prevent it and treat it," said Dr. Robin Goland.

A new study out today in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the standard treatment for type 2 diabetes in children is ineffective because the commonly prescribed drug Metaformin - effective in adults - has a high failure rate in children. Still, a combination of two diabetes drugs is far more effective in treating young people.

"Two drugs right off the bat, that's an important finding," Goland said.

It is important because type 2 diabetes appears to be more aggressive in young people between the ages of 10 and 17, putting them at great risk for life-threatening illnesses typically associated with seniors.

"We want them to grow up and have healthy lives and not be having heart attacks and strokes at terribly young ages," Goland said.

When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, more exercise and a healthier diet are key, but doctors know young peoples' habits are tough to change.

"The first surprise that we saw was, number one, how incredibly difficult it was to effect lifestyle change in these children, in these youth that have type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Kenneth Copeland.

It is extremely difficult as well to get children to take any medicine, let alone two drugs.

This spotlights the oldest truth in medicine: better to not get the disease than have to treat it.