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With increase in obesity-related diabetes, Bremerton and Central Kitsap schools hope to get kids 'Moving'

The Kitsap County Health District and reports from the Bremerton and Central Kitsap school districts indicate that diabetes rates among youth have been static during the past several years. However, there is a reported increase in Type 2 diabetes among children, the kind affected by diet and lifestyle, which was formerly known as “the old person’s diabetes,” one nurse said.

 

In an attempt to nip the trend, Bremerton is applying to designate Bremerton as a Let’s Move! city, a program spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama to reduce youth obesity and related diseases such as diabetes.

Though health district officials say youth diabetes rates do not indicate epidemic proportions, school nurses say obesity-related diabetes is climbing. And those who deal with young people struggling with their weight are concerned.

“It’s just scary for me,” said Cecilia Adrian, a Bremerton School District nurse who supervises the diets and medication of the diabetic children.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about one-third of people born in 2000 are expected to be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime. While some youth advocates say that expectation can be curbed by proper education and the availability of programs such as the Youth Wellness Center, others say a child’s lifestyle and health is beyond the control of educators.

About 3.9 percent of eighth graders in Kitsap County reported having been diagnosed with diabetes at some point in their lives in 2008, while 4.3 percent of 10th graders reported a diagnosis, according to the Kitsap County Health District. Those figures are both down from about 4.5 percent in 2004.

Because those changes are small, there is no real trend detected in youth diabetes rates in the county, said Siri Kushner, epidemiologist with the health district. Kitsap’s rates are also consistent with statewide rates, she said.

It doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t an increase in youth diabetes — because the health district’s numbers are based on self-reporting children, there is no way of knowing what the actual youth diabetes rates are, Kushner said.

Part of the lack of more accurate numbers could be a lack of access to health care, which could allow more children to be diagnosed with diabetes, she added.

“We don’t have any way to know because we have no disease registry,” she said. “All we can go on is what children have been self-reporting.”

People do, however, tend to get diagnosed with diabetes later in life, Kushner said.

According to information supplied by the health district, 8.2 percent of adults older than 20 had been diagnosed with diabetes in their lives in 2008, up from 6.9 percent in 2004.

Though the number of children with diabetes in schools tends to fluctuate, nurses in both the Bremerton and Central Kitsap school districts said more kids are being diagnosed with Type 2 and being diagnosed at earlier ages.

About 32 students in the Central Kitsap School District have diabetes, out of 11,200 students in the district.

From 2006 to 2010, the number of Bremerton students receiving diabetic care in school has fluctuated between 11 and 31. The head count of students in the Bremerton School District as of this month is 5,283.

“I’ve seen kids as young as kindergarten,” said Adrian, the Bremerton School District nurse.

The increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes indicates a decline in healthy lifestyle among young people, said Vonnie Saucerman, health services supervisor for the Central Kitsap School District.

“We’re seeing more kids with type II, which was generally thought of as the old person’s diabetes,” she said.

Cary Bozeman, CEO of the Port of Bremerton and the former director of the King County Boys and Girls Club, proposed the Youth Wellness Center before he stepped down as Bremerton mayor in 2008 and said fighting youth obesity - and obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes - is the “single most important thing we can do in this country.”

“But we don’t do a very good job about it,” he added.

The Let’s Move! initiative comes as a Youth Wellness Center is being planned for the old Bremerton Junior High School site on Wheaton Way, where a Boys and Girls teen center and Bremerton School District kitchen are in the works and the old junior high ball fields will be incorporated into the campus.

The city is putting together a resolution to bring to the City Council and the idea was put before city department directors this week, Lent said.

As part of the Let’s Move Cities and Towns program, cities must post online updates, timelines and plans to address reducing childhood obesity, making healthy food affordable and accessible, providing healthy food in schools and increasing physical activity. There are no details yet on what anti-obesity programs the city will develop, though Lent said the Youth Wellness Center will play into the city’s plan.

Fighting such childhood diseases requires a three-pronged approach during a child’s development, Bozeman said, that incorporates nutrition education, exercise and access to preventive health care.

“Young people just don’t know how to care about themselves,” Bozeman said. “If you raise young people to run their life that way, then when they get to be a parent, they’ll do that for their children.”

And that’s why the Youth Wellness Center and Let’s Move! initiative are so important - so students can adopt healthy habits early in life, Lent said.

“We want kind of a well-rounded youth,” she said.

Adrian said that proper health education in schools can make a difference. Bremerton lunches have recently shifted in focus from french fries to more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole wheat bread. There are no longer any soda machines at Bremerton High School, she said.

Central Kitsap nurses also offers presentations about healthy living to classrooms in the district, but they are only given to classes that request it. Saucerman admits they are not given as often as she’d like. Nurses might give 12 presentations in one school and none in another.

However, Saucerman said there is only so much schools and cities can do to prevent the kind of diabetes rates predicted by the Centers for Disease Control. An unhealthy lifestyle at home negates what can be taught in school, she said.

“The kids are only here six hours a day and only 180 days a year, so our influence is not as much as people might assume,” Saucerman said.

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