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Rise of diabetes among Indian kids a cause for concern

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Raghav, now a Class tenth student, was very young when he began to experience nausea coupled with frequent episodes of fainting at his school, a phenomenon which made him feel like an outcast among his friends.

He became a joke among his friends and his parents did not know what he was up against. Several medical tests later, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

What was once considered a disease only adults could be diagnosed with, is now being increasingly seen in children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2030, diabetes would be the seventh leading cause of disease as already there are about 347 million people living with the disease worldwide.

In alone a staggering 65.1 million people suffer from this disease, according to a report by The International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

As for children under the age of 15, in 2012, approximately 500,000 children were found to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (T1DM). Half of this number was in developing countries alone.

Over 97, 000 of these were found in India, according to the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Which means around one in five children diagnosed with diabetes is Indian. And this number is rising further.

Diabetes in children is generally attributed to bad eating habits, with nutritious meals being replaced with fast foods, coupled with physical inactivity.

While Type 2 (T2DM) diabetes can be treated since it is largely linked to obesity and bad eating habits, Type 1 (T1DM) is harder to treat as the immune system in the body starts attacking pancreatic cells producing insulin, leading to greater mortality rates.

For young children, the experience can be an emotional burden as many feel discriminated against.

Some even fail to excel at school and their social relationships are restricted. Families are often ill informed about the disease and in many cases the access to insulin is also limited.

However, dietary choices remain the biggest concern in the battle against diabetes.

"Trying to convince a child to change his lifestyle and diet is more difficult as compared to an adult. It has huge behavourial and social implications," said Professor Nikhil Tandon, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

While it is true that in developing countries diabetes is increasingly prevalent in children due to certain lifestyle habits, medical experts also attribute other factors.

"We have seen an increase in the number of diabetes cases because of changes in lifestyle and enhanced economic growth in India. Developing countries become more vulnerable because of lack of knowledge especially in rural areas," said Monika Arora, Director Health Promotion and Adjunct Associate Professor, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

But organisations like the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) are looking to keep this disease under control among young, school-going children by launching programmes like the Kids and Diabetes in School (KiDS) project.

"The KiDS project aims to improve lives of kids in schools because children with diabetes suffer from the stigma attached to the disease, issues where they are unable to inform people that they have diabetes. So we aim to help students, parents and teachers change perceptions and manage the disease by creating a hospitable environment within schools," said David Chaney, Senior Education Specialist at IDF.

The programme in its nascent phase will be introduced in 15 schools, both government and private, in Delhi. It will target the teachers, students and parents and help them understand more about the disease and ways of diabetes management.

But there are some schools like Raghav's, which have been imparting similar schemes since over a decade.

"The programme at my school has made my life easier since most people now have a good understanding of the disease. I have been able to lead a normal life at school because of the support of my teachers and friends and don't feel discriminated against," he said.

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