Help Kids Avoid Type 2 Diabetes: Eat Less Sugar, More Fiber

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Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC) conducted a 16-week study to see if slightly modifying the diets of Latino teenagers would affect type 2 diabetes risk factors. The findings were reported in the April 2009 issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

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Latino Teens Have High Obesity and Diabetes Risks

The research participants were Latino teenagers because previous research showed almost 40 percent of Mexican American children ages 12 to 19 were found to be overweight or at risk of developing diabetes.

“Latino children are more insulin resistant and thus more likely to develop obesity-related chronic diseases than their white counterparts,” the authors write. “To date, only a few studies have examined the effects of a high-fiber, low-sugar diet on metabolic health in overweight youth, and to our knowledge, none have tested the effects of this type of intervention in a mixed-sex group of Latino youth.”

Study Summary

The 54 participants with an average age of 15.5 years were divided into three groups:

  1. Control group
  2. Nutrition class group (receiving one nutrition class per week)
  3. Nutrition class plus strength straining group
    (nutrition class plus two strength training sessions per week)

Participants reported changes they made to their diets. 55% of participants reduced their sugar intake by an average of 47 grams per day, about the amount of sugar in one can of non-diet soda. 59% increased their fiber intake by 5 grams, about the same as the amount of fiber in one half-cup of beans. The results?

Those who decreased their sugar intake had an average 33% reduction in insulin secretion. Those who increased their fiber intake had an average 10% reduction in visceral adipose (fat) tissue volume.

“A reduction in visceral fat indicates a reduction in risk for type 2 diabetes, considering that to a greater degree than total body fat, visceral fat [fat surrounding the internal organs] has been shown to be negatively associated with insulin sensitivity,” the authors note.

“Those who increased fiber intake had a significant reduction in body mass index (-2 percent vs. 2 percent) and visceral adipose tissue (-10 percent vs. no change) compared with those who decreased fiber intake,” the authors write.

“This study shows that when overweight teenagers make small simple changes in dietary intake they can lead to meaningful effects on optimizing metabolic state that reduces risk of type 2 diabetes,” says Principal Investigator Michael I. Goran, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine, physiology and biophysics and pediatrics, and director of the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine.

Sugary Drinks

Research shows that male teens drink the most sugary sodas per day. 20% drink 4 or more servings daily. In addition to raising dietary calories and causing increase risk of obesity, such drinks also reduce calcium levels, increase risk of osteoporosis, consequent bone fractures, and dental problems. Research statistics show that each 12 ounce non-diet soda consumed per day raises the risk of obesity by 60%. While juices are a better choice than sodas, especially juices such as grape and pomegranate that have additional health benefits, they also contain large amounts of sugary calories that spike insulation production and can cause increased appetite just like sugary sodas do.

Suggestions for Your Kids

In general, there are three main lifestyle means to reduce the risks of obesity and diabetes. One is to have a healthy diet. Another is to increase exercise. A third way, the use of dietary supplements and medicines to address weight and diet concerns, isn’t as great an idea for kids as adults as will be explained below.

Diet Changes

There are many simple diet changes you can make to help your kids reduce their risks for obesity and diabetes.

  • While non-diet sodas are an improvement over sugary sodas, it would be best to buy and consume neither.
  • Cut down on sugar content in juices, either by replacing juice with water or diluting juice with ice and water.
  • Select lower sugar breakfast cereals by paying attention to the nutritional information on the side of the box. Often similar cereals can have widely ranging amounts of sugar.
  • Add beans to salads, tacos, and other dishes to increase fiber intake.
  • Add ground flax seed to smoothies, yogurt, cereal, and other dishes to add more fiber content without affecting taste significantly.

Increase Exercise

Also, try to get your kids to exercise more. For young children, encourage your kids to play outside by taking them to the playground, playing tag, or similar activities. For older kids, encourage them to join a school sports team and/or learn a “lifetime sport” such as tennis, racquetball, basketball, or something else they can play now and when they are adults.

Nutritional Supplements and Medicines

In general, use caution regarding your children taking nutritional supplements. Many dietary supplements and medicines have not been studied on children, so the effects they have may vary from those in adults. Given how fast children are growing, it’s possible there could be significant side effects for some of these supplements and medicines that simply do not occur in full-grown adults.

Supplements that have been extensively researched in children and/or are believed to be low-risk/high-benefit include children’s multivitamins, vitamin B nutrients especially including folic acid and vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D up to 2000 IU per day, and omega-3 essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA.

Vitamin D for Kids

Vitamin D supplementation is of particular importance for kids who don’t get a lot of time outside or live in cold or rainy climates. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to a variety of diseases that start to develop during childhood including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, immune system disorders, and osteoporosis. We strongly suggest you read some of the articles below on vitamin D supplementation for children and consider adding vitamin D supplements into your children’s diet at 400 IU to 2000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. We recommend vitamin D supplements using the D3 form known as cholecalciferol as they are inexpensive and generally thought to be more effective than vitamin D2. One product that may be suitable for kids is Puritan’s Pride 1000 IU caplets as they are easier to swallow than many tablets.

If your children are not old enough to swallow capsules or tablets, find a vitamin D3 supplement that uses capsules that you can take apart and dissolve the contents into low-sugar juices or other healthy drinks your children consume. One such product that is inexpensive is Puritan’s Pride 5000 IU capsules. Simply open up a capsule and dissolve the vitamin D into drinks for multiple kids. In some drinks it may not all dissolve, but most of it will. For instance, you could dissolve the contents of one 5000 IU capsule in a quart (32 ounces) of juice and provide 1250 IU of additional vitamin D per child for four kids who drink an 8-ounce glass of juice per day.

With Puritan’s Pride frequent “buy 2 get 3 free” sales, it would cost less than $30 to supplement at about 850 IU of vitamin D3 per day for two years for four kids. This is just pennies per day for whole family, and in our view a very worthwhile investment in your children’s health. Moreover, vitamin D3 supplements are widely regarded as important for adults, too, both for the reasons they apply to children and also because low vitamin D levels result in substantially increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Further Reading

USC Study Finds That Reducing Sugar and Increasing Fiber Intake May Improve Diabetes Risk Factors in Latino Teens

Reduction in Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Response to a Low-Sugar, High-Fiber Dietary Intervention in Overweight Latino Adolescents (abstract)

Sugary Drinks and Childhood Obesity

Less sugar, more fiber, less diabetes risk

Dietary Changes Shield Latino Teens From Diabetes
Study found high-fiber, low-sugar regimen reduced risk factors

High doses of vitamin D safe for school children

Kids Aren’t Getting Enough Vitamin D

Intake of vitamin D and risk of type 1 diabetes: a birth-cohort study.

Multiple Sclerosis Risk Linked to Vitamin D Deficiency

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned in this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  1. May 5th, 2009 at 14:52 | #1

    This is a great article that seems to pay attention to many layers of the issue. We have a client,, who’s product speaks to two of the issues above and was formulated by a parent (a father, nontheless) who is vigilant in the prevention of diabetes in children as well as obesity. You mentioned cutting juice as a way to cut down on sugar and calories. One of the things to keep in mind is that cutting juice also cuts nutrients. So, you are better off giving your kids juice that was created with half the sugar to begin with. First juice was created this way for this very reason, and also contains vegetables. Additionally, the juice has a great amount of vitamin D in it which speaks to your other point. So, sorry to seem selfishly promotional of a client but their product should truly resonate with your readers. There are also coupons available online. Thanks!

    • admin
      May 5th, 2009 at 15:04 | #2

      Thanks for your comments and the link! This looks like a much healthier alternative to regular fruit juice.

  1. April 11th, 2010 at 03:51 | #1

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