Only 2 percent of Commonwealth children from ages 6 months to 10 years are getting their share of a proper diet, according to the most recent study conducted by the Division of Public Health with the University of Hawaii.
The Healthy Living in the Pacific Islands, a survey conducted between June and July 2005, surveyed 420 children between the ages of 6 months to 10 years of age across the CNMI. The study aimed to help DPH look at health indicators and nutrition among CNMI children.
DPH Deputy Secretary Lynn Tenorio said the general assessment also indicated that 54 percent of the children surveyed needed dietary improvements, “whether they were eating more than they are supposed to or those who are underweight. And we do have our underweight children as well.”
She said the survey also found “an unusually high intake of protein” among CNMI children—the result of eating too much processed foods and not enough vegetables—and “low consumption of fruit.”
The study further indicated that of the 420 children surveyed, a huge percentage of them were obese: 25 percent for 2-3 years of age; 26 percent for 4 to 6 years of age; and 45 percent for 4-10 years of age.
Tenorio said in the past, Type 2 diabetes was referred to as “maturity onset diabetes,” meaning people get it when they are much older, predominantly 65 to 74 years of age. However, in the CNMI, the youngest person to have ever been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes was 11 years old; among American children, it is approximately 13.5 years of age.
Another study that was conducted was the Project 10 survey, which was done between October 2003 to October 2004.
The study surveyed 453 tenth graders CNMI-wide to examine their risk factors for type 2 diabetes by studying the teenager’s body mass index, family history, measuring of blood pressure and glucose, and looking for signs of acanthosis nigricans, which is a skin discoloration on the base and back of the neck associated with insulin resistance.
Tenorio said the Project 10 study showed that 78 percent of the respondents reported having family members with diabetes and identified 49.5 percent with acanthosis nigricans.
Of the 453 students who participated in the Project 10 study, 442 took part in the measurement phase. Results later showed 60 percent of the students were normal weight; 17 percent, overweight; and 23 percent, obese.
The Project 10 study further indicated that 68 percent reported eating fast foods three to seven days a week; 78 percent reported drinking soft drinks three to seven days a week; and 86 percent reported drinking high sugar drinks three to seven days a week.
Tenorio wishes the CNMI can conduct another Project 10 study or something similar to it to compare and see how the CNMI is doing in its efforts to tackle the issue; however, with “limited resources, it’s very difficult.”
According to Tenorio, the onset of Type 2 diabetes has been estimated to occur four to seven years before clinical diagnosis.
“People come in complaining that they feel weak and tired, and they don’t know why. Some complain of blurred vision only to find out later that they are experiencing uncontrolled diabetes,” Tenorio said. “They can have all the signs, but by the time it starts affecting their body physiologically, it could already be anywhere between four to seven years. That’s why we felt we needed to find out what the risk factors are so at least those areas you can modify and try to prevent.”
DPH has conducted clinical training among its staff to help their patients address their health issues.
The DPH Diabetes Prevention and Control Program partners up with the Northern Marianas College Cooperative Research Education and Extension Services, the Diabetes Coalition, Ayuda Network, and Cancer Coalition, among a number of other members and organizations in the community, to raise awareness through various activities such as health fairs, community screenings, fun runs, and nutrition month.
Physical therapist Pam Carhill said making small changes in one’s diet could make a difference in those who are in danger of the disease.
“Through small changes, you can beat family history,” Carhill said.