06/13/2012 09:14 am ET Updated Jun 20, 2012

Young Latinos Have Fastest Growing Rate Of Diabetes, Study Says

It might be hard to tell a chubby-cheeked gordito that he can have only one helping of flan after dinner, but doctors say a healthy diet and good exercise habits are the key to fixing one of the Latino community's scariest health problems.

A new study released by research affiliates with the American Diabetes Association found that the number of Latino children and youth under 20 years of age diagnosed with diabetes is growing at an alarming rate -- the fastest of any ethnic group in the U.S.

Type 1 diabetes is growing at an annual rate of about 3 percent, with a 23 percent increase in 8 years, in children and young adults, while the prevalence of type 2 diabetes had increased 21 percent in American youth from 2001-2009 according to data collected by the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth study. But the trend has affected Latinos the worst, according to researchers.

"Rates of diabetes among Hispanic kids have outpaced other groups both in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes – something we’ve never seen before and indicative of something we should take seriously,” study author Dana Dabelea, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Colorado in Denver said while presenting his study findings, NBC Latino reported.

And it's not just the kids. One in ten Hispanics over the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Education Program.

Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of the illness and results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Whereas Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes, accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all cases and usually develops in adults over the age of 40, but is becoming more and more common in children and young adults, according to the National Diabetes Education Program. An individual is more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes if they are overweight or are not getting enough exercise, according to the same report.

But experts say small changes can make a big difference. Diet and exercise, doctors say, is key.

Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, a doctor and professor at the University of North Carolina told NBC Latino that, “these things reduce Type 2 diabetes and can be helpful in terms of managing the disease." She added that, "it’s also important that your child has already been diagnosed with diabetes, you should work closely with a health care provider to optimize the health of their child.”

38.2 percent of Hispanic children between the ages of 2 and 19 were overweight or obese, compared with 31.7 percent of all children on average, according to a study conducted by the Leadership for Healthy Communities in May of 2010. And, what's more alarming, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) reported last year that one out of two Latino children born in the year of 2000 will develop diabetes.

Jennifer Ng'andu, the deputy director of the council's health policy project, told The Huffington Post that this statistic should make us think seriously about the health of our children.

"That is the statistic that should be our wake-up call,” Ng'andu said.

Click here to find out more about how to manage diabetes or decrease the risks of developing diabetes.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the increase of Type 2 diabetes for Americans under the age of 20. The article now correctly states "the prevalence of type 2 diabetes had increased 21 percent in American youth between 2001-2009."