Unbeknown to Rorn Chamroeun, her 12-year-old daughter had battled kidney failure since birth, a situation intricately linked to her daughter’s consumption of sugary drinks.

In Cambodia, the impact of diabetes in children is being addressed by proactive measures being taken to tackle this growing concern.

Chamroeun was unaware of her child’s congenital kidney disease until March when she received the news, uncovering prolonged consumption of sugary drinks as the culprit for many of her daughter’s health problems, including type 1 diabetes.

Her daughter routinely consumed sweets and instant noodles, both at school and at home. The mother now acknowledges the detrimental impact of excessive sugar consumption and processed foods on her daughter’s kidneys, which has exacerbated her illnesses.

“I now understand that consuming sweet confections is unwise, as the excessive intake of sugar, in conjunction with processed foods, is inadvisable, given their detrimental health implications,” Chamroeun says.

Sum Satha, an endocrinologist specialising in diabetes, says the condition is due to the body’s incapacity to produce insulin, a hormone crucial for blood sugar regulation.

He points, however, to the recent discovery of medications in the US that can potentially delay diabetes onset for those at heightened risk, though widespread adoption of these treatments remains pending.

Satha warns those with type 1 diabetes against discontinuing routine insulin injections without sound medical advice. This precaution arises due to the absence of any oral medications, supplements or traditional remedies capable of effectively managing the condition. Consequently, insulin injections stand as the sole established treatment approach.

He underscores that children living with diabetes generally require more specialised care compared to adults, often needing a dedicated care team. He advocates for the active participation of families, parents, educators, schools and medical professionals in the health management of children with the condition.

The endocrinologist says type 1 diabetes primarily stems from the autoimmune deterioration of the insulin-producing cells within the pancreas.

This leads to an insulin deficiency crucial for blood sugar regulation. While the precise cause remains elusive, it is thought to result from a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors provoking this autoimmune response.

Educational collaboration

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has enacted a ban in educational institutions, prohibiting the sale of foods and beverages deemed detrimental to children’s health. This restriction includes energy drinks and sugary beverages. The objective of the ministry initiative, delineated in Directive No 18 issued on May 2, 2019, is to advance food safety, overall health and raise educational awareness of lifelong healthy dietary practices.

“We have noted increased effectiveness when this initiative receives backing from both principals and local communities.

Teachers and students have exhibited improved awareness and attentiveness. Various stakeholders have collaborated for the common good, with some schools even endorsing the sale of healthier Khmer foods,” says ministry spokesperson Khuon Vicheka.

She adds that the education ministry collaborates closely with various departments to ensure the widespread distribution of health guidelines to schools nationwide.

This comprehensive campaign encompasses online publication of these standards, providing easy access to schools, alongside directives issued to all public schools, ranging from primary to secondary education institutions.

Vicheka underscores that the adverse effects of diabetes and unhealthy products pose a threat to the well-being of all individuals, with particular concern for children.

“Children represent the future of the nation. Failing to uphold good health from a young age may potentially hinder their access to future educational opportunities,” she says.

The ministry promotes and encourages adherence to the guidelines by all food vendors operating in and around schools.

Chamroeun notes that her daughter’s school ceased vending unhealthy foods due to the ministry’s ban on sweets.

She underscores the potential adverse impact of sugar-laden and low-quality food on children’s health, potentially leading to conditions like diabetes or kidney damage, mirroring her daughter’s experience.

The Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital recently reported that the number of children seeking treatment for diabetes was on the rise, with their hospitals treating between 60 and 80 new cases of childhood diabetes each year.