Although type 2 diabetes primarily affects adults, children across the nation are developing the condition at alarming rates. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body builds up a resistance to insulin which is needed to help the body regulate blood sugar. This disease can be life-changing and an extreme threat to a person’s health and well-being. Therefore, preventing diabetes in children is essential.
Childhood obesity is an important factor in the rising rates of type 2 diabetes among children and currently, one-third of American children are overweight. Specifically, in Connecticut, 15.3% of children ages 10-17 are struggling with obesity. In most cases, childhood obesity can be prevented with a healthy diet and regular exercise. However, for many low-income communities where rates of childhood obesity are highest, many caregivers do not have the means or resources to help prevent children from developing illnesses such as diabetes.
While physical activity is an important preventative measure, many children also need access to affordable yet healthy foods. In Connecticut, there is known to be a lack of full-service grocery stores in underserved areas such as Hartford. For families experiencing poverty, it can be really challenging to find affordable and healthy food options, and that in turn contributes to health inequities. These health disparities are seen close to home as those who live in the North End of Hartford have a lower life expectancy than those who live in West Hartford by 16 to 20 years.
Individuals and families who are a part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are not necessarily at an advantage either. These food stamp programs are meant to increase access to food, but they cannot be the sole solution. Some stores raise prices at the beginning of the month which forces customers to pay the prices they cannot afford, leaving them with limited funds for the end of the month. This lack of nutritious options is one risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Children eat what their parents provide for them, and if the parents do not have another option than to provide cheap processed foods, then that is what the child has to eat.
While school is in session, healthy food might be available to children through the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program for Connecticut, which provides free and reduced-price lunches to children in need. However, as the program requires parents to submit an application for enrollment, some families may not feel comfortable asking for help, or they may even be unaware these programs exist at all. If families are struggling to provide healthy options at home, and children do not get meals at school, they are left eating unhealthy meals which are the cheap and affordable options. For this reason, more needs to be done to ensure access to affordable and nutritious food options for children while they are at home and at school.
For individuals living in food deserts where full-service grocery stores are not easily accessible, corner stores need to provide easier access to healthy options. Initiatives in some parts of Connecticut have shown that corner stores can be given coordinated community support to improve what they’re offering, supplying fresh food at a reasonable price that lower-income families could afford. By reducing the barriers present, such as cost and lack of transportation, more people may be apt to participate in healthy eating habits. In order to combat the issue of childhood-onset type 2 diabetes, families need the resources in their communities to maintain healthy lifestyles. If corner stores replace unhealthy snacks with nutritious options at affordable prices, the group of people who can provide healthy meals for their families greatly expands.
We must fight for affordable and nutritious food options for children who do not have the power or choice over their future health outcomes.
Mollie McManus is a junior at Sacred Heart University majoring in Health Science with a concentration in public health and plans to become a Physician Assistant.