Type 2 Diabetes in Children – A Growing Concern

Type 2 diabetes in children is becoming more common around the world. This may be due to lifestyle shifts that include eating habits that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, along with lower physical activity levels in today’s children. An increase in childhood obesity has also been blamed for the increased prevalence of this disease in youth.

In past decades it was more common to see a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in children and it was rare to see type 2 diabetes in children; however, "Some studies report that between 8% and 45% of children who've been newly diagnosed with diabetes have the form known as type 2"(1).

Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body responses to the hormone insulin. For reasons that are not fully understood, the body of a type 2 diabetic starts to develop a resistance to insulin.

Because of this resistance, sugar that enters the blood after eating cannot move into the body cells to be used as energy and instead accumulates in the blood leading to high blood sugar levels.

Chronically high blood sugar levels are the hallmark of type 2 diabetes in children. These high levels are a problem because they can lead to symptoms such as: fatigue, tingling sensations in the feet, itchy skin, cuts or infections that heal slowly, blurred vision and in some cases an increase in thirst, urination and appetite.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children may develop gradually making them difficult to detect. If a diagnosis is delayed or missed, serious health complications can develop as a child moves into adulthood such as vision problems, cardiovascular disease, damage to the kidneys and nervous system and poor circulation in the legs.

There are risk factors that can increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes in children and one is having a relative with the disease. In fact, it is estimated that 45% to 80% of children with type 2 diabetes have at least one parent with diabetes and a strong family history of the disease.

Another risk factor is being overweight. Carrying extra fat makes it difficult for body cells to respond properly to insulin. Other risk factors include being inactive, eating a poor nutritional diet, and being part of an ethnic group including: Native American, African American, Hispanic or Asian descent.

Children in puberty are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes then younger children. This is thought to be due to expected rises in hormone levels that can lead to insulin resistance during puberty.

Though type 2 diabetes in children is a serious disease, it can be managed with appropriate changes to diet, increased physical activity, the loss of excess weight and close monitoring of blood sugar levels under the supervision of a doctor.

(1) Kids Health (2010). Type 2 diabetes: what is it. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/endocrine/type2.html

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