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State pediatricians meet to confront growing childhood diabetes epidemic
By Jack Komperda | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/31/2009 12:01 AM

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Cynthia Mears has seen firsthand how a child's poor diet can become a catalyst for developing diabetes later in life.

In fact, Mears, the co-director of the adolescent medicine program at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, has devoted much of her practice to the growing epidemic.

"A lot of this is a social, cultural problem," Mears said Saturday. "At my school, for instance, a typical lunch involves pizza or fries. People should be screaming about this lack of nutrition."

The rapid growth in diabetes in children was among the topics Saturday when doctors from across the state met in Lisle for the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual conference. Pediatricians say a lack of nutrition, coupled with inactivity, will fuel a spike in childhood diabetes over the next two decades. They expect a flood of cases in Illinois.

"It's coming to a pediatrics office practice near you," said Sue Sauder, an associate professor of pediatrics medicine at the University of Illinois at Peoria.

Sauder estimated that more than 850 children at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes exist in the state for every one pediatrician equipped to treat them.

Typically, diet and exercise are prescribed for children at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, Sauder said, a treatment that is successful in only about five percent of cases.

The anti-diabetic drug Metformin often is prescribed when dietary changes don't work or aren't heeded, Sauder said adolescents and teens can be unwilling to deal with some of its unflattering side effects.

"Taking a drug whose side effects include (passing gas) all the time is obviously something that's socially unacceptable to so many high school students," she said.

But some practitioners are stepping up to ensure their message is getting through to parents of children at risk.

Adolfo Ariza, a staff pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital, said he is recruiting practitioners for a small pilot study aimed at improving how medical providers advise patients.

"We want to get to the point where we're conveying all the relevant information in one minute," Ariza said. "In many ways, we're all teaching ourselves how best to do this."