Type 2 Diabetes in Children
Just a few years ago, it was rare to hear about a child with type 2 diabetes. It used to be thought that if diabetes occurred in childhood, it was type 1, or juvenile-onset, diabetes. Not anymore. Now, according to the CDC, more than 186,000 people younger than age 20 have diabetes -- both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes. How can you prevent this threat to your child's health? What can you do if your child is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into blood sugar glucose. The pancreas creates a hormone called insulin to lead glucose from the blood vessels into the cells of the body to be used for energy.
In type 2 diabetes, the cells in a child's body are resistant to the effects of insulin and glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Eventually, this causes glucose to reach dangerous levels in the body.
Over time, the body becomes increasingly less able to handle all the glucose in the blood vessels. The high blood sugar can then lead to diabetes complications, such as heart disease, blindness, and kidney failure.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes in Children
The following risk factors are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in children:
- Being overweight
- Family history of diabetes
- Female gender
- Specific ethnic groups (American Indian, African-American, Asian, or Hispanic/Latino)
- Other problems with insulin resistance (most people with type 2 diabetes in childhood are diagnosed at the start of puberty, a developmental stage where there's increased resistance)
The single greatest risk factor for type 2 diabetes in children is excess weight. In the U.S., nearly one out of every five children is considered to be overweight. Once a child is overweight, chances are more than doubled that the child will develop diabetes. One or more of these factors may contribute to excess weight or obesity:
- Unhealthy eating patterns
- Lack of physical activity
- An inherited tendency
- Rarely, a hormone problem or other medical condition
In addition, as with adults, the risk of type 2 diabetes in children appears to be associated with excess abdominal weight. This obesity pattern increases the chance of insulin resistance and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in Children
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children develop slowly. Initially, there may be no symptoms. Eventually, you may notice one or more of these symptoms:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased hunger or thirst, even after eating
- Dry mouth
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Heavy breathing
- Slow healing of sores or cuts
- Itchy skin
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
It is time to visit your child's doctor if you notice any of these symptoms of diabetes in your child.