Dance Away Diabetes

As anybody who’s been following the news over the last year or so will know, there is a growing epidemic among American children – type 2 diabetes.

It’s a problem that is both confronting and confounding more doctors, families, and health care professionals every day.

Until 15 years ago, type 2 diabetes was never seen in young people. Now it’s occurring with alarming frequency. And, type 2 diabetes appears to be more aggressive in young people between the ages of 10 and 17, putting them at great risk for life-threatening illnesses typically associated with seniors. Doctors know that a major risk factor is obesity. Beyond that, they are mostly in the dark.

Worse still, the standard treatment for type 2 diabetes in children is ineffective because metaformin – a drug which is effective in adults, has a high failure rate among children.

When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, more exercise and a healthier diet are key but doctors know young peoples’ habits are tough to change.

Which is why SRxA’s Word on Health was interested to learn of the “Dance for Health” program being pioneered by Professor Terri Lipman, a nurse practitioner and professor of pediatric nursing at the University of Pennslvania.  Dance for Health encourages children and adults to ward off the disease and hip-hop their way to good health.

Penn Nursing has partnered with Philadelphia’s Sayre High School and the Bernett Johnson Sayre Health Center to assess and improve physical activity among school-aged children, with the goal of lowering the risk for obesity.

Busting cool moves across a wooden gym floor, the Sayre High School dance team led children through one hour of dancing weekly for one month. Using pedometers, the research team found that the students averaged twice as many steps on days they danced.

At the same time, researchers noted that the children had elevated resting heart rates after exercise, indicating that they were not physically fit. Dance for Health aims to change that.

Dancing is not only free, culturally relevant, and fun,” says Dr. Lipman, “it is also an easily accessible way for children to lead a more active lifestyle. Through this program, we aim to promote to schools and healthcare providers the benefits of incorporating dance into children’s lives to improve their overall health.”

The partnership between Penn Nursing and Sayre High School has yielded other benefits. Dr. Lipman now hosts weekly evening dance classes for children and adults ages 5 to 91!

At the same time, they are educating the neighboring community, demographically at high risk for diabetes, about prevention through good nutrition, exercise, and recognition of warning signs. In addition to taking basic measurements such as weight, height, and waist circumference, the students also check for acanthosis nigricans, a darkening of the skin associated with obesity and diabetes.

Our partnership with Sayre has opened the door to a strong relationship with residents of the community around Penn,” says Dr. Lipman. “It has allowed us to work with individuals, schools, and community groups to fight diabetes together.”

Do you know of any similar initiatives?  Ballroom Dance for bulimics?!? Samba for stroke?!? Share your stories with us.

Treating asthma leads to better diabetic control

At first glance asthma and diabetes would seem to have very little in common, other than they are both diseases that often appear in childhood.

However, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows a new link.  Researchers have found that kids with diabetes may have a higher-than-average rate of asthma, and those with both conditions seem to have a tougher time keeping their blood sugar under control.

Among 2,000 3- to 21-year-olds with diabetes, 11% had asthma – higher than the expected 9% rate among children and young adults in the U.S.

The difference was even bigger when the researchers looked at type 2 diabetes, the form associated with obesity, and usually diagnosed in adults. In that group, 16% had asthma.

Researchers also showed that kids with both type 1 diabetes and asthma were more likely to have poor blood sugar control than their peers who were asthma-free.

The reasons for the findings are not completely clear.  However, the higher rate of asthma among young people with type 2 diabetes suggests a role for obesity, according to lead researcher Mary Helen Black, of the department of research and evaluation at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Some past research has found that people with poorly controlled diabetes are more likely to show diminished lung function over time than those with well-controlled diabetes. But the reasons for that are also unknown.

Black suggests the reason may simply be that it’s tougher for kids with type 1 diabetes to control their blood sugar when they have another chronic health problem.

The good news is that when kids with both diseases were on asthma medication, their blood sugar control was better. In particular, poor blood sugar control was seen in less than 5% of those taking leukotriene modifiers such as Singulair, Accolate and Zyflo; compared with about 30% of type 1 diabetics who were not on medication for their asthma.

The researchers are not sure if that means there’s an effect of the asthma drugs themselves. It may just be that kids with better-controlled asthma are also more likely to have well-controlled diabetes.

The bottom line for doctors and parents is to be aware that kids with diabetes may have a somewhat higher rate of asthma – and that those with both may have more trouble with blood sugar control.

Do you or your child suffer from both conditions?  Does this research support your experience?  As always we’d love to hear from you.