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Rise in number of Aussie kids at risk of diabetes

Marcus Butler

24 July 2017: Australian children are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes than ever before, according to researchers from the University of Canberra.

Experts from the University’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE) say primary school age children are showing increasing signs of the risk factors associated with the condition.

UCRISE Professor of Physical Literacy Dick Telford, who is also a renowned running coach, said a steep decline in physical activity among children was responsible for the increase in the number of children at risk.

“Type 2 diabetes has long been associated with middle age people, people over the age of 45, but we are seeing an increasing number of younger people diagnosed,” Professor Telford said.

“There is no cure for type 2 diabetes, but it is largely preventable if we tackle the risk factors. There are some genetic links but for the most part it is a lifestyle disease.

“Addressing the lack of physical activity, poor diet and overweight or obesity are the key areas.”

Professor Telford is part of a team of researchers which has been using the Lifestyle of our Kids (LOOK) randomized controlled trial to examine these areas of concern.

LOOK is a longitudinal study which commenced in 2005, with a group of eight-year old children. The study is following them as they grow into adulthood and old age.

“What we have found is that in 12-year-old children entering secondary schools, approximately 30 per cent had elevated insulin resistance and other early signs of developing type 2 diabetes,” Professor Telford said.

“These were children in mid-range socio-economic status public schools, so it shouldn’t be discounted as solely an issue for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.”

Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and can lead to blindness. It is also associated with a 15 times higher rate of amputation among sufferers.

Professor Telford, who was the first sports scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport, said the effects of type 2 diabetes on a person should be enough to get educators and policy-makers listening.

“Our studies have found that introducing just two quality physical education classes per week into public primary schools reduced the incidence of this at-risk insulin resistance by a third,” he said.

“Sadly, what we see is that many schools lack even this low number of physical education lessons. I think it is a reflection on the focus educators place on test results for NAPLAN and other cognitive outcomes.

“Government and education departments have continued to downplay physical education in schools in recent decades; NAPLAN rules the roost. But when we introduced quality physical education into schools, NAPLAN scores between grade three and five improved by 10 points, above children who did have those PE lessons.

“What students have been missing out on is learning physical literacy, knowing their bodies and gaining confidence in how to move and exercise and to make better choices for their bodies.”