Type 2 Diabetes in Children

What is Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

In decades past it was unusual for children to have type 2 diabetes. In fact, type 1 diabetes was labeled as juvenile diabetes, but that has changed. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDD), more than 208,000 people under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The epidemic of obesity and a lack of exercise are largely to blame.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin. The pancreas still functions, but the cells of the body stop responding to insulin. As a result, sugar levels accumulate in the blood. When left untreated it can cause damage and life-threatening complications.

What are the Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

Unlike type 1 diabetes in children, type 2 develops gradually. Symptoms may be nonexistent or overlooked.

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination that may include bedwetting
  • Unusual hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itchiness
  • Lethargy
  • Vision disturbances
  • Slow healing injuries
  • Tingly or numb feet and hands
  • Recurring infections
  • Dark skin patches (acanthosis nigricans)

Type 2 Diabetes in Children Causes

Type 2 diabetes comes about as a result of insulin resistance. This occurs when the body struggles to efficiently use the insulin that it produces. Insulin helps cells to use up glucose, which it takes from food and uses to make energy. The body begins to make more and more insulin to compensate, but inevitably, it reaches a point where it cannot produce enough insulin to cope with glucose levels. Eventually, glucose levels rise and rise and begin to cause the symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes.

The causes of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in children are much the same as in adults. Obesity is a major factor; those who carry lots of excess weight, particularly if it is around the stomach, are more at risk of type 2 diabetes.

There is also a genetic factor to take into account. Both diabetes and obesity run in families, so a child with type 2 diabetic parents is more likely to develop the condition. A child with a long family history of both obesity and diabetes is at particularly high risk of developing the disease.

How is Type 2 Diabetes in Children Treated?

After blood tests confirm type 1 diabetes treatment will be begin.

Treatments include:

  • Regular blood glucose monitoring
  • Healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Prescription oral medication
  • Insulin injections

It is important to watch for signs of low blood sugar, high blood sugar and ketoacidosis in children. Regular blood sugar monitoring and diligence can prevent damaging or potentially life-threatening complications.

Type 2 Diabetes in Children Prevention

The most important way to prevent type 2 diabetes in children is to strictly control their diet in order to help them maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if they are overweight or obese. Losing just 5 to 7% of the body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes.

Consumption of high amounts of sugar and fat can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, so a balanced diet is strongly recommended. By consuming the same healthy diet as your child, you can help influence them to make healthier diet choices too.

Exercise is also known to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, so ensure children are active on a regular basis to help prevent the disease. Aim for around 30 minutes of activity, five times each week. You can slowly build up to this level of exercise for children who are currently very inactive.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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