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The “Other” epidemic of our youth – prediabetes.



It’s inarguably a positive for society is that so much attention is given to mental health issues affecting the youth of the U.S.

With the impacts of COVID, increased feelings of isolation, more dependency on smartphones, often toxic social media, and many other factors, we all recognize that mental health issues and suicide merits our immediate attention. This was underscored most recently by a series of New York Times stories and the Surgeon General’s statement reflecting that one in three school children have had feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Yet, with all that being said, another crisis is emerging that is getting far less attention: the rise in prediabetes in our youth.

Nearly one in four teens and young adults are prediabetic. Unless we find solutions to this challenge, our youth will carry this into their adulthood where they have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and have a higher risk of other health issues including cardiovascular disease. These statistics are worse if you are of a non-white race1.

Image of CDC infographicSource:

What’s driving this epidemic of and prediabetes?

This is complex and not a “new” problem but certainly getting worse. Some of the most frequently discussed social and structural drivers for this epidemic include:

1. Social determinants of health
  • For many our youth, the ability to simply exercise outside in a safe environment is not so easy.
  • For many of our youth, access to healthy food options and overall food insecurity is a significant problem.
  • Health literacy further exacerbates those struggling to navigate the complex U.S. health system.

2. Health inequities that drive deep social barriers for non-white populations.

3. The increased sedentary and “screen time” behaviors or teen and young adults.

What can we do?

While fixing some of the deep, societal, and socioeconomic issues that are driving this crisis will not happen overnight, we must continue to put pressure on the entire ecosystem to make improvements on the many great imbalances. There are things that we can do now that could make an impact:

1. Focus on positive messaging, and support – let’s not make matters worse

While there are several factors here, as we have stated physical exercise and dietary intake are two key drivers to prediabetes and diabetes. People often emphasize weight loss to prevent diabetes. However, with self-esteem and body image issues pervasive in our youth, we need to be thoughtful and responsible in how we approach the topic of dietary intake. There is plenty of evidence that food shaming and other forms of social-driven stigmas around eating are exacerbating mental health and eating disorders. Let’s be careful on how we approach our youth and ensure that we don’t make matters worse.

2. Support efforts to combat social determinants drivers

Safe places to exercise including improved green spaces and parks, access to transportation, access to healthier food options, and common sense to addressing health literacy are all crucial.

This is where the community must come together – both local (food banks, public transportation, etc.) and national resources must work together, in a patient-centric approach, to ensure that individual struggles with these barriers are remedied. This requires both a grass roots movement as well as one that technology innovators can take a stronger role in addressing.

3. Provide direct support to teens and young adults to guide them

Along with addressing the many social determinant drivers to this crisis, the direct engagement of our youth here requires an all-hands-on deck from families, school systems, providers, and others. A personalized, patient-centric approach that meets the youth where they are – often on their smartphones – will play a key role here. The rapid expansion of telehealth solutions and smartphone apps on wellness are working towards this end. Connecting them with the tools, education, and resources in a smart way will support and connect the efforts of the broader ecosystem involved.

Innovate for change

At Uneo, we know that solving this crisis will not be easy but we are convinced that with innovation, collaboration, and creativity – as well as listening to this generation more carefully – we can make a difference. If you want to join us on this mission, please let the Uneo team know.

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