UAE: Is diabetes among children on the rise? Doctors explain

Health experts worry that several factors are associated with diabetes in the young population and require immediate attention


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Fri 18 Nov 2022, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 18 Nov 2022, 7:22 PM

Cases of diabetes have been rapidly increasing in many countries and as per the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation.

In the UAE, the disease has recorded a rise among adults and the younger population. A new trend has emerged where more young people are diagnosed with diabetes. Health experts worry that several factors are associated with diabetes in the young population and require immediate attention.

Dr Sanjiv Kumar Kakkar, specialist paediatrics at NMC Royal Hospital, Sharjah, said that the most important factor leading to diabetes is the changing lifestyle. “By lifestyle, I mean the diet and the activity of the children,” said Dr Kakkar.

“Today’s children have very sedentary lifestyles with less involvement in active physical exercises or routines like walking, running, cycling, or playing team games. This leads to a progressive weight gain resulting in obesity,” added Dr Kakkar.

Dr Ignatiius Edwin D’souza, specialist clinical lecturer and chair of paediatric and neonatology at Thumbay University Hospital, said, “Children are glued to screens which in turn disengage them from physical activities- which is one of the main reasons for developing diabetes."

Dr Ignatiius Edwin D’souza
Dr Ignatiius Edwin D’souza

The next contributing cause is the consumption of junk food. “Excessive consumption of junk food such as pizzas, burgers, and fries adds fuel to the fire. Kids are spoilt with choices of processed and fast food, which is easily available that causes obesity and other associated health conditions,” said D’souza.

Dr Sanjiv Kumar Kakkar
Dr Sanjiv Kumar Kakkar

Dr Kakkar lists other factors contributing to diabetes in the young population.

  • Obesity results in a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) related to an accelerated decline in Beta cells (the source of insulin), resulting in Type 1 diabetes.
  • Less exposure to infectious agents at a younger age (hygiene hypothesis) results in the immaturity of the immune system and increased immune modulated disorders resulting in Beta Cells’ destruction.
  • Factors like an increase in Vitamin D deficiency and early exposure to cow’s milk are further known to influence the incidence of Type 1 diabetes.

Medicos suggest screening for diabetes for all children who have a family history or suffer from obesity. “If a child has loss of weight, frequent urination, and not gaining weight despite having a good appetite are some of the red flags for parents to watch out,” said Dr D’souza.

However, delayed diagnosis can cause diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) wherein the child is in a state of acidosis, and his sugar levels are consistently elevated, which usually presents itself with symptoms such as abdominal pain, and taking a detailed history is important; Dr D’souza said.

Experts warn that if the symptoms are left undiagnosed or untreated, the condition can lead to life-threatening complications, which can affect nerves too.

Regarding the reversal of diabetes, doctors highlighted that insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), also known as Type 1 diabetes, which usually starts before 15 years of age in kids and cannot be reversed. “Kids need to be taught to control it by insulin shots, blood glucose testing, diet, and exercise,” said Dr D’souza.

Medicos said that Type 2 is majorly seen among elderly patients or obese children. “It should be emphasised that there’s no alternative to insulin, and parents should not be misguided by practitioners advising herbs or alternatives to insulin,” said Dr Dsouza.


Healthcare specialists have also stated that both overweight and underweight children are at risk of developing diabetes, the latter because the body is not used to handling sugar loads early on.

“Healthy eating habits need to be disciplined early on, tutoring the taste buds of the young and stopping their access to fast foods. Carbohydrate counting is an effective way, too, so the child needs to be educated on the list of foods they can have,” said Dr Dsouza.

Medicos have said there should be a balanced approach to deciding on physical activity. “Too much and too little physical activity can affect insulin levels. If there’s too strenuous activity, the sugars can go down, and if there’s too little, the sugars can spike up. A constant set of patterns is required,” said Dr Dsouza.

The most common myth in UAE is that parents believe Type 1 diabetes is a short-term phenomenon and can be outgrown. “Some find it hard to believe that diabetes can affect children. But the truth is it can happen to anyone at any age. Parents should be vigilant, and paediatricians have an important role to play in asking a few detailed questions to assess the onset of diabetes,” mentioned Dr Dsouza.

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