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Health Break: Warning signs for type 2 diabetes or unhealthy weight in children and teens

Medical provider speaks with a child and parent about type 2 diabetes

A podcast for UPMC Health Plan members, Health Break is your quick guide to caring for your mental and physical health, prioritizing wellness, and making the most of your health insurance plan.

Episode 31: Take a Health Break with Dr. Robert Rutkowski

Dr. Rutkowski takes a Health Break to provide an overview of some of the primary warning signs for type 2 diabetes or obesity in children and teens, and strategies for creating healthy lifestyle habits to avoid a diagnosis. 


Episode transcript:

Camille: Welcome to Health Break by UPMC Health Plan, your quick guide to health, wellness, and how to make the most of your health insurance plan. I’m your host, Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith. I help to oversee the quality of the plans and programs we offer at UPMC Health Plan.

Angelo: And I’m your co-host, Angelo Bartic. I’m a health coach who works with our members on making healthy lifestyle habits and setting goals. This is your…Health Break.

Camille: Today we’re joined by Dr. Robert Rutkowski to learn about some of the warning signs for type two diabetes or unhealthy weight in children and teens. We’ll also go over strategies for creating healthy lifestyle habits that can help young people avoid a diagnosis. Thank you so much, Dr. Rob, for being here with us today.

Dr. Rutkowski: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s great to be here.

Camille: First question, could you start by telling us how to determine a healthy weight in kids and teens and what would be considered an unhealthy weight?

Dr. Rutkowski: Sure. Determining healthy weight in pediatric patients is relatively straightforward and is a normal part of a well-child check. Both healthy and unhealthy weight are documented as body mass index or BMI, which is a measure of weight for height. There are a variety of calculators and websites that will calculate BMI for you, but let’s keep in mind that you want that number to be explained by your health care provider and how it relates to your child’s health. BMI does vary by age and sex, and a healthy weight is defined as a BMI under the 85th percentile for age and an unhealthy weight is a BMI greater than a 95th. Those in between are defined as at risk for an unhealthy weight.

Camille: What are some of the risk factors for high BMI in children?

Dr. Rutkowski: Well thinking about it for a second, risk factors between children and adults are fairly similar. Lifestyles that are lower in activity and diets that are rich in fat and calories are the main cause. It is really recommended that children six to 17 get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. It also, I think, has to be recognized that children are often affected by social drivers of health–the safety of the areas that they live, the availability of healthy food options, and their parents’ understanding of the long-term effects on their health that early choices can have.

Camille: What are some of the warning signs that a child might be at increased risk for type two diabetes?

Dr. Rutkowski: Yeah, there’s definitely a correlation between type two diabetes and unhealthy weight in children. Those in the category are more likely to have type two diabetes. Some warning signs are increasing BMI, especially when you’re getting to the 99th percent or above for age. And then there’s a darkening of the skin on the back of the neck called acanthosis nigricans. Unfortunately, type two diabetes is also more likely in girls and often presents in the young teen age group. Those who are African American or Hispanic descent are also more likely to be affected. And those with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Camille: Do you mind sharing some top tips for caregivers for monitoring these warning signs and creating healthy habits for kids and teens?

Dr. Rutkowski: Some top tips would include to find a trusted provider for the child’s health care. Be willing to have the hard conversations about weight and healthy lifestyle, healthy habits, at those visits, and be willing and open to making changes as a family. We are lucky that we have a lot of resources available. Those include many UPMC Health Plan resources. UPMC has lifestyle coaching that is offered to members of all ages and all plans. The program’s called Prescription for Wellness. I personally prescribe Prescription for Wellness when I have patients in my office through the electronic medical record. I make the prescription and a health coach will reach out. Alternatively, families can call Member Services to enroll. The service is free and the coaches will work with families to provide and promote healthy lifestyles in real time. For members 16 years old and over, there’s a digital option called RxWell. All they have to do is go to the app store, download the app, and start a self-guided program for healthier lifestyles.

Camille: Thank you so much for taking a Health Break with us today.

Dr. Rutkowski: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.

Camille: Check the show notes for ways to get connected to resources for the children in your life.

Find show notes and more information at Join us as we continue exploring health, wellness, and how to make the most of your health insurance plan in the next episode of Health Break.

This podcast is for informational and educational purposes. It is not medical care or advice. Individuals in need of medical care should consult their personal care provider. Views and opinions expressed by the hosts and guests are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of UPMC Health Plan and its employees.

About Dr. Robert Rutkowski: 

Headshot photo of Dr. Robert Rutkowski

Robert Rutkowski, MD, is a medical director at UPMC Health Plan concentrating his efforts in pediatric value-based care and population health strategy. He attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and completed his residency at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He has been in practice with Children’s Community Pediatrics for over 20 years and is the Medical Director of Children’s Hospital Express Care’s South Fayette location.   

About Dr. Camille Clarke-Smith: 

Camille Clarke-Smith, EdD, is a program director in the Quality Improvement, Medicare Stars Department at UPMC Health Plan, where she leads the Medicare Faith and Wellness Program, a 3- to 12-week health and wellness challenge. She is also the founder of the nonprofit Transforming the Health of African American Women (THAW) Inc. She earned a doctorate in health and physical activity education from the University of Pittsburgh in addition to a master’s in exercise science and a bachelor’s in psychology and sociology. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in social work at Carlow University. 

*RxWell is available to UPMC Health Plan members who are 14 years old or older.