AISD health screenings identify children at risk for Type 2 diabetes

Acanthosis Nigricans is a skin marker associated with high insulin levels, a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes
Acanthosis Nigricans is a skin marker associated with high insulin levels, a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes

AUSTIN (KXAN) — This month, Austin Independent School District students are getting screened for a health condition you’ve likely never heard of: Acanthosis Nigricans. It’s a skin condition that can mean there are high levels of insulin in the body, which puts a child at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

The skin condition can be found behind a child’s neck, creases of the elbow and groin. School nurses and medical assistants look for a light brown or black velvety, rough or thickened area on the back of the neck.

“Our whole goal is if we can identify these kids early on, then we can intervene,” said Sally Freeman, AISD Director of Student Health Services. “Help them make lifestyle choices around healthy eating, exercise, that’s going to improve long-term health and maybe prevent them from getting Type 2 Diabetes.”

The screenings in Texas, called the Texas Risk Assessment for Type 2 Diabetes in Children, have been required in Texas by law since the early 2000s, but nationwide the number of kids developing Type 2 diabetes is going up. Health officials say 15 years ago, Type 2 diabetes was almost unheard of in children, but now there are thousands of cases. Higher insulin levels can also increase a child’s risk of cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.

Freeman says last year they screened about 25,000 students and 6 percent were identified to be at risk. Numbers from  Austin ISD schools can be found here for the 2015-16 school year. 

“We do provide more case management to students with diabetes in the Austin School District. The nurses spend quite a bit of time taking care of those types of kids, so we’ve seen increases in that number,” said Freeman.

If a child has the skin condition, nurses will weigh and measure them, as well as take blood pressure readings, and then let parents know. Health officials say if a child has it, steps can be taken to reverse the process and bring insulin levels back to normal – like nutrition counseling, exercise and weight management.

“It can be very scary, especially if a parent hears that their child has a high BMI. So I think just to know there’s a great team to support them — their school nurse, their primary care doctor, our programs here at Dell Children’s,” said Freeman.

For children at risk for Type 2 Diabetes, there’s a free program they can sign up for at Dell Children’s Medical Center. The 10-week Healthy Living, Happy Living course is offered in both English and Spanish.

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