Diabetes may not get the attention that cancer, heart disease or COVID does, but it is one of the most prevalent diseases in the U.S. – more than 37 million people have it and 9 million of them don’t even know it.

Making matters worse is that a newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Pediatrics journal says prediabetes among children has climbed from 11.6 percent in 1999 to 28.2 percent in 2018 – that’s 96 million kids.

This is concerning because with prediabetes, the pancreas is unable to lower sugar in the bloodstream, which leads to increased blood sugar levels. If not recognized and addressed, it can lead to diabetes which can cause other health conditions and can make it nearly impossible to live a full life.

What can be done to combat this growing public health crisis?

According to Neha Malhotra, MD, an endocrinologist with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, “if measures are not taken, the youth of today will grow up to be adults with a much higher risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and strokes. Prediabetes is also associated with kidney disease, which could result in dialysis or transplants.”

“The most important thing is to follow a healthy lifestyle as a family, largely, healthy eating,” Dr. Malhotra added. “Parents can try to incorporate healthy foods such as lean meats, fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables into meal planning. It works so much better when these changes happen as a family where parents can model healthy eating habits for their children.”

Although most people with prediabetes don’t have any symptoms, you should watch for the tell-tale signs of diabetes, including:

  • Feeling very thirsty.
  • Urinating more than usual.
  • Feeling very hungry.
  • Having blurred vision.
  • Losing weight without trying.

A simple blood test ordered by your primary care physician can diagnose prediabetes.

Dr. Malhotra suggests avoiding foods with simple sugars such as processed foods like white bread, pasta, cereal, cookies and sweetened beverages.

Parents must also promote physical activity. Dr. Malhotra recommends that children get regular physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviors such as watching television or other screen time. Parents can help their children find physical activities they will enjoy such as playing sports, going for hikes or swimming as a family.

“The epidemic of prediabetes and obesity in youth can have a huge impact on the physical and social wellbeing of society,” says Dr. Malhotra, “However, the good news is that it can be reverted through education, behavioral modifications and lifestyle changes.”