Pediatricians and epidemiologists are sounding the alarm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents is rising. In fact, the number of people aged 20 and under living with Type 2 diabetes grew by 95% between 2001 and 2017.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. It involves your insulin not being able to work as efficiently (insulin resistance) and your body losing its ability to make enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows us to convert the food we eat into energy for our cells.
Type 2 diabetes is also the most common form of diabetes in any age group. Because of the dramatic increase of type 2 diabetes diagnoses in kids, you may wonder if your own child is at risk. Learn more about the symptoms of childhood type 2 diabetes.
Signs of Type 2 Diabetes in Children
A few decades ago, doctors referred to type 2 diabetes as adult-onset diabetes. That’s because they rarely diagnosed children with it. In recent years, that’s changed.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes is a condition that has strong links to lifestyle. You are much more likely to develop it if you are sedentary and carry extra weight. It also has a genetic component, meaning that if somebody in the family has type 2 diabetes, the risk of having it is higher.
Despite the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the symptoms of the two diseases are quite similar. Some of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children include:
- Excessive thirst.
- Increased urination.
- Weight gain or loss.
- Blurred vision.
- Frequent infections.
Some children also develop patches of dark, thickened skin in the back of the neck or armpits called acanthosis nigricans.
If you notice these symptoms in your child, make an appointment to see your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. They can test for diabetes.
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What Are the Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes in Kids?
There are several risk factors that may make it more likely for your child to develop type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, those risk factors include:
- Being overweight, especially carrying extra weight around the belly area.
- Lack of regular physical exercise.
- A family history of Type 2 diabetes.
- A mother who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
- Being of African America, Native America, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic/Latino.
- Having other medical issues related to insulin resistance.
If your child has any of these risk factors, talk to your pediatrician. Your doctor can check your child’s blood sugar during their annual physical.
What Are the Early Signs of Type 2 Diabetes in Kids?
It’s not always easy to spot the early signs of type 2 diabetes in kids. But knowing the risk factors and symptoms of type 2 diabetes can help. Some of the symptoms include:
- Weight gain.
- Increased thirst.
- Increased urination.
- Blurry vision.
If you notice your child drinking yet unable to quench their thirst — or heading to the bathroom every 15 minutes — it’s probably time to talk to your pediatrician. If your child does have the disease, there are several things you can do to help treat it. Increasing physical exercise and making healthy changes to your family’s diet can make the disease much more manageable.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Type 2 Diabetes in Kids?
To diagnose diabetes, your child’s pediatrician will use special tests that look at how much sugar (glucose) is circulating in their blood. If your child has any risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, your doctor will usually order a blood glucose check during your child’s annual check-up.
The most common test is the random blood glucose test, where the doctor takes a drop of blood with a finger stick. (If your child needs bloodwork for another reason, their pediatrician can order a random blood glucose test as part of that.) A random blood glucose test tells the doctor how much sugar is circulating in the blood at that moment.
If the random blood glucose test is over 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), it usually indicates diabetes. If the HbA1C measures at 6.5% or higher, that also points to a diabetes diagnosis.
The doctor may also order an HbA1C test. This test gives the doctor an average of your child’s blood sugar levels over a period of three months.
If your doctor suspects Type 2 diabetes after these initial measures, it is likely they will order further tests for your child. These can include a glucose tolerance test. With this test, the doctor will ask your child to drink a special glucose-rich beverage and then test their blood sugar levels.
It’s also possible your doctor will repeat one or more of these tests. This can help them make the right diagnosis.
Living With Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes requires lifelong management. That’s the bad news. The good news is that making targeted changes to your lifestyle can make it much easier to manage.
Talk to your doctor about how to increase physical activity — and make it fun for the whole family. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity each day. You can play a family game of tag in the backyard, host a before-dinner dance party, or go on long walks together. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity in each day.
You can also ask your pediatrician about healthy diet changes you can make keep your child’s blood sugar under control. This includes adding more whole vegetables to meals, keeping an eye on portion sizes, and replacing sugary sodas and juices with water.
These positive changes can benefit your child — and your whole family.
Connect with UPMC
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.