Public health nurses are ‘vital’ to prevent rising numbers of children with type 2 diabetes, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
More than 600 children and teenagers are being treated for the condition, according to local councils, with a rise of 110 under-19s diagnosed in 2015-16 on two years prior. The youngest children to be treated are five to nine years old.
According to the RCN, these figures could have a ‘very real impact’ on children but type 2 diabetes can be managed, or cured, by a healthy lifestyle.
‘The message is just not getting through,’ said RCN public health lead Helen Donovan. ‘This is a key example of why public health nurses are so vital in our communities. They can help families forge healthier habits and raise awareness of the risks at hand. But since public health budgets were slashed there just isn’t enough funding for the staff we need.
‘An investment in public health is an investment in the whole health system. Without these specialist nurses in place, avoidable health conditions like type 2 diabetes will only continue to rise.’
Type 2 diabetes is a form of the condition usually seen in adults over the age of 40. The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for ‘urgent action’ on childhood obesity.
According to figures from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 621 children and young people under the age of 25 were treated for type 2 diabetes by paediatric diabetes units in 2015-16 and 78.5% of them were obese.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA community wellbeing board chair, said: ‘These figures show a hugely disturbing trend in the increasing number of children and teenagers being treated for Type 2 diabetes, a condition normally only associated with adults.
‘Obesity is usually linked with major health conditions later on in life, but already we are seeing the devastating consequences at an early age.
‘It is vital that the childhood obesity plan improves the health of young people.’
Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is largely preventable and is closely linked to lifestyle, such as unhealthy eating or lack of exercise. The first cases of type 2 diabetes in children were diagnosed in overweight girls of Asian ethnic origin in 2000 and first reported in white adolescents in 2002.
The LGA called on the government to reverse the £531 million cuts to councils’ public health budgets, as this has impaired councils’ ability to tackle childhood obesity and prevent type 2 diabetes from developing in the first place.