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Type 2 Diabetes & Children for Health

Today we are delighted to launch a new FREE Children for Health resource, My Hero, a book on the theme of Type 2 Diabetes. It combines a storybook followed by 10 activities fo older children and educators to use and that help children deepen and strengthen their understanding of the themes and ideas raised in the story.

Download for free now!

This is our second post about this resource, you can read our first post here.

The first post describes HOW we co-created the resource with a team of people and schools in Guam. This post focuses on our thinking about Type 2 Diabetes and the challenges around the lifestyle issues linked to the disease. 

People who have healthy lifestyles can get Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). A healthy lifestyle is only one factor that contributes to preventing the disease. If a child has one parent with T2D, then the risk to the child of getting it is higher. If both parents have T2D then the risk is even higher. However, lifestyle factors can lead to Type 2 Diabetes and unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common for children to be diagnosed with pre-diabetes. This is especially true in places where children regularly consume high levels of sugar and carbohydrates.

It is always good for children to develop good health habits like eating healthier food, drinking water, and having enough sleep. Changing health habits is hard as mostly we are choosing to do things for reasons that are the best for us at the time.

For example: the reasons why a young person starts to smoke is not to do with the taste (which is horrible!) or that the person likes to cough and then smell of ash, they will do it for one or more good reasons:

  • to join a group
  • impress a friend or other associate
  • look ‘cool’ or grown-up
  • to have something that they can share with others
  • they may enjoy the ‘lighting up’ and the ritual
  • they may feel more powerful and bonded to others who are also smoking
  • gives them something to do

But because of the addictive nature of tobacco/nicotine, it is not long before that person feels they need to smoke and they get used to the taste. Smoking is extremely harmful to their health and everyone who smokes knows that, but the knowledge that it’s harmful is rarely powerful enough to motivate people to stop, especially when they are addicted. Smoking or starting to smoke will feel like the best choice the person can make at the time despite the health risks.

It is easier for children to adopt healthy habits as they grow and develop rather than changing behaviour later and they can develop good habits quickly with the support of family and friends. For many people (but not all), the prevention of Type 2 Diabetes is linked to living a healthy lifestyle. This means eating well (i.e. a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses and other whole foods) plus drinking water or other drinks that do not have any added sugar. It also means being active (like walking, jogging, cycling, gardening and generally just moving around). Even ‘fidgeting’ is a useful movement! Enough good sleep is also important.

The reasons why families may not be eating well, like the smoking example, may have little to do with the actual taste of what they are eating (until the person starts to feel strongly attached to the items they are eating) and more to do with the comforting activity or regular habits with which these items are associated. For example – I love to walk with my friend to school, and, on the way, we buy my favourite sugary drink, a ready meal, potato chips and candy. We share some of the candy as we walk.

Health habits are linked to the culture of the family (including traditions), habits, everyday ways of doing things at home and school, the environment around a child, the attitudes they have or adopt from those around them and the way their body works uniquely. Children may have limited power to choose what they consume with their families. However, as they get older, children can be influential and motivate others. They can be agents of change. Their scope to do so will not only vary widely from village to village or community to community but from family to family.

It is great to involve children in what they can do to influence change and how to achieve it. Children can come up with their own ideas about what they can do – on their own and with others. They need opportunities to understand different factors influencing choices when given the chance to do so and in a learning environment where they feel safe to speak.

Our challenge as their teachers and facilitators is to create that informed, safe learning environment and ensure no child feels the pressure to take action beyond what they feel skilled and competent to do, especially if the activity involves speaking out or initiating a discussion with the family. Children must be encouraged to do activities that feel fun and safe.

As adults we need to be supportive and encouraging to children and resist making unhelpful comments which can have a profound impact on how children see themselves.  Here is an example of something that actually happened to a young friend of ours.

When I was 14, an adult who was working to serve school lunches saw what I put on my plate and said, “Are you going to eat all that?” I remember it extremely vividly. From that time, I started weighing myself. That was the start of my eating disorder.

As well as the story, this book proposes activities and discussions to help children develop an awareness of the ways in which their everyday lives and the choices being made affect their health and well-being as they grow. The aim is to prevent Type 2 Diabetes. The ambition of Children for Health and of our partner in Guam is to equip children with the information and the tools to become aware of how to live healthier, happier lives using a process that connects with the everyday realities of the lives that they lead. Part of this process is also enabling children to share what they have learned with others.

Not all the activities will be right for the group of children you work with and many of the activities will need to be adapted.

Download for free now!

Please note: Children for Health supports the idea that people can be healthy at many sizes. We do not believe in weight loss through dieting and the pressures in society that cause children to try to lose weight. These pressures are ineffective and are almost always harmful and can lead to eating disorders. Children for Health promotes healthy eating and enjoyable physical activity to feel better and live longer. We do not believe weight loss through dieting is the way to become healthy. We do believe in learning what makes us feel strong and happier and emphasizing the small changes that are realistic and that can be sustained and supported within a child’s family and community setting. Scientific evidence supports this.