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Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents

To help recognize National Diabetes Month, Maureen Dever, MSN, CRNP, CDE, PPCNP-BC, nurse practitioner in the Diabetes Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is here to talk about the growing issue of type 2 diabetes in children and teens.


Type 2 diabetes is occurring more often in children and teens.

Here are some facts about this disease.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease, which affects the way the body processes blood sugar. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1, which is an autoimmune disease (the immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas) and type 2, which does not have an autoimmune component.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by an increase in blood sugar that is caused by the body having a resistance to, or lack of, the hormone insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, which is a gland located behind the stomach. The pancreas releases insulin in response to blood sugar increases, which occur after eating. Insulin is needed to move the blood sugar from the blood stream to the cell, to be used for energy. If the body does not make enough insulin, or the body resists the effects of insulin that is made, too much sugar builds up in the blood, and the sugar cannot be used by the cells for energy.

Is Type 2 diabetes only seen in older people?

Type 2 used to be only associated with adults, but is now being recognized in children at a rate that is increasing.  The increase in the number of children and teens with type 2 is thought to be related to the rise of obesity in children and teens.

Is there a difference in the treatment for type 1 versus type 2 diabetes?

The only current treatment to control blood sugars for patients with type 1 diabetes is insulin. Patients with type 2 diabetes may be treated with diet and exercise, medication by mouth, injections, such as insulin, or a combination of the above.

shutterstock_536016979.jpgWhat makes my child or teen at risk for type 2 diabetes?

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes for children and teens include being overweight, having a family member with type 2 diabetes, or mother with gestational diabetes, high risk ethnicity, and having a sedentary lifestyle. Some children may develop a darkening in the skin of the neck and in other skin folds. This is called acanthosis nigricans, and is a sign of insulin resistance, which occurs prior to developing type 2 diabetes.

What are the symptoms of type 2?

Type 2 diabetes can develop gradually, and about 40% of children may have no symptoms. Other children with type 2 may develop increased thirst and urination, blurry vision, weight loss, fatigue, and a decreased ability to heal or fight infections. If you notice these symptoms in your child, report them to your child’s health care provider.

Why is it important to control blood sugars?

High blood sugars that are left untreated over time can affect every major organ in the child’s body, including the eyes, heart, nervous system, and kidneys.  The long-term complications of type 2 diabetes develop gradually and include blindness, cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, amputations, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Is there any way to prevent type 2 for my child?

Healthy eating, daily exercise, and keeping a healthy weight are important steps to preventing type 2 diabetes. Parents can help by providing small portions of healthy foods and exercising with their child or offering the child opportunities to be more active. Signing your child up for a sport or dance lessons can help. Your child may need support to stay on track with diet and exercise changes. Keeping a positive attitude towards a healthy diet and exercise is important to build habits in your child that they may use to manage diabetes throughout their life. A healthy diet and exercise can benefit the other family members, and so your child will not feel alone; it is important to include the entire family in the lifestyle change.

What if my child is already overweight or has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?

It’s not too late to make healthy changes! Diet and daily exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and may make it easier to control blood sugars.

  • Stay Focused
  • Make healthy changes every day. Little changes over time is the secret to long term success.
  • If you fall off track, remember why you started, and make a fresh start the next day.
  • A positive attitude will bring positive results!
  • Believe you can do it and you are half way there!

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