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.
What’s driving this epidemic of and prediabetes?
What can we do?
1. Focus on positive messaging, and support – let’s not make matters worseWhile 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 driversSafe 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.
3. Provide direct support to teens and young adults to guide themAlong 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