Can Children Get Type 2 Diabetes? Risks Factors, Complications, Prevention

Posted June 1, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

Diabetes in children is normally called juvenile diabetes, which is another name for type 1 diabetes. Juvenile diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the cause is not fully known. But can children get type 2 diabetes? And if so, what is the reasoning and treatment?

In this article, we will cover everything about type 2 diabetes in children. Here is a brief explanation to get you started.

Can Children Get Type 2 Diabetes? Type 2 diabetes can occur in anyone, including children, but it is not as likely in young kids. It is often difficult to detect type 2 diabetes in children, as it is a gradual and progressive condition. Type 2 diabetes is directly correlated to obesity and excess body fat. So, obese children may be at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Here is what you need to know about type 2 diabetes in children.

Causes and Risk Factors of Type 2 Diabetes in Children

type 2 diabetes in children

For a while, type 2 diabetes was only thought to occur in adults. However, in recent years there has been evidence that suggests type 2 diabetes in children has been slowly increasing. Type 2 diabetes is not typically diagnosed in children. However, it does happen, and parents need to be aware of what the causes and risk factors are for type 2 diabetes in children.

The main contributing factor of type 2 diabetes in children is obesity. Children that have parents and other family members that are overweight are more likely to follow the same path.

Obesity is caused largely by overeating and not exercising enough. A child looks to their parents and family members for what “normal” is. So, if the culture and lifestyle around the family are eating large meals that lack proper nutrition and not getting enough physical activity, then that will be “normal” for the child.

A child will gradually, yet quickly, gain unnecessary weight by eating more and exercising less. Excess fat around the mid-section is associated with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition where cells do not respond appropriately to insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for getting glucose in the blood to the cells. Therefore, cells are not taking in glucose, which results in elevated amounts of glucose in the blood.

Children that consume high amounts of fast food, soda, and other sugary drinks and candy may be at a higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Genetics may also play a part in the risk factor of type 2 diabetes in children. For example, a child has an increased risk if one or both biological parents have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in a Child

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children are similar to that of adults that have diabetes. Here is a list of symptoms that children with type 2 diabetes may experience.

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Darkened skin around armpits and neck
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in vision

Parents of kids that have an increased risk for type 2 diabetes should monitor their child’s behavior and physical appearance. Take note of any complaints your child brings to your attention and do not dismiss them. If you notice physical changes such as rapid weight loss or darkened skin, then consult your doctor.

Diagnosing Type 2 Diabetes in Children

type 2 diabetes in children

If a child is displaying signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes, then they should visit their pediatrician right away. A pediatrician will be able to test and screen your child for diabetes through various tests.

One such test is a urine glucose test. This is where the doctor will take a sample of the patient’s urine and measure the level of glucose and the level of ketones in the urine. This will give the doctor an indication if farther testing needs to be done.

A blood glucose test is another simple test where the doctor will prick the patient’s finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. A blood sugar reading between 70 and 100 mg/dL is considered normal. Anything above that may be considered prediabetes or diabetes, depending on when the patient had their last meal.

Another test that may be performed is a glucose tolerance test. A glucose tolerance test is done after the patient has been fasting for 8 hours. The patient will then be given a glucose drink. The patient’s blood sugar will be tested before the glucose drink and at one hour and two hours after the drink is administered. This indicates how well one’s cells are responding to insulin and if enough insulin is being produced.

One last test that may be done is a hemoglobin A1c test. An A1c test gives a good indicator of your average blood sugar levels over the course of the past three months or so. A normal A1c is between 4% and 5.6%.

Complications of Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Type 2 diabetes can cause major complications within a child’s body. Children with diabetes are more likely to have complications with their eyes, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. The effects are likely to become more severe long-term if the patient’s diabetes is not well controlled.

Children or teens with type 2 diabetes have been shown to have premature blood vessel aging. This means that these individuals may have thicker carotid arteries. Carotid arteries are major vessels that supply blood to the brain. This is a major complication of type 2 diabetes in children as it significantly increases the individual’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke later on in life.

Complications of type 2 diabetes in children include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Blindness or changes in vision
  • Blood vessel disease
  • Heart disease

In severe cases, patients may experience amputation as part of a complication associated with type 2 diabetes. This occurs due to a patient losing feeling in their feet or other extremities. When a person loses feeling due to nerve damage associated with diabetes, they are at an increased risk for having an infection from a small sore, cut, or ulcer that they do not feel. This infection can become very severe, making it necessary to amputate.

Treatment

There are multiple ways to treat type 2 diabetes in children. There are various oral medications that patients can take to help control blood sugar levels. They work by improving the cell’s responsiveness to insulin.

Some patients may be able to control their blood sugar levels through diet and exercise. By maintaining a strict diet and eating certain foods, you can improve your insulin sensitivity. Incorporating daily exercise into your child’s lifestyle can also improve their insulin sensitivity, helping control blood sugar levels.

In some cases, children with type 2 diabetes may require insulin therapy. Children with type 2 diabetes that need insulin may require just one injection of long-acting insulin or may need to be prescribed short-acting insulin. The doctor should determine the severity of the child’s diabetes.

Prevention Steps

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, especially during the early stages of a child. Parents should encourage their child to healthy foods to help prevent the risk of type 2 diabetes. Fast foods and fried foods should be avoided as much as possible. Your child should eat a balanced diet containing vegetables, fruits, high-quality protein, and healthy fats.

Parents should also motivate their children to stay physically active. This can be done by getting them involved in team sports. Sports provide children and teens with the opportunity to stay active and a chance to meet friends with similar interest as them.

Life Outlook for Children with Type 2 Diabetes

type 2 diabetes in children

Childhood obesity has continued to increase in the United States throughout the last few years. Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes in children can be difficult to detect, as it gradually becomes worse and worse.

Despite this, children with type 2 diabetes can live a healthy and normal life. Doctors are not positive what kind of life outlook a child with type 2 diabetes will have, as it is highly dependent upon the parents and the patient to take care of their health.

Those that take care of their health and take proper medication, as prescribed by the doctor, can avoid major complications associated with type 2 diabetes. This will improve one’s life outlook.

How Early Can a Child get Type 2 Diabetes?

Children that develop type 2 diabetes are normally diagnosed between the ages of 10-18. It is most common during the early teenage years. One possible reason that this is the average age is due to hormonal changes taking place during the early teenage years.

Hormonal changes can affect the way the cells respond to insulin. If a child is overweight, inactive, or has a poor diet, then the hormonal changes can have a more significant contribution to the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Conclusion

Yes, children can get type 2 diabetes, but it can be prevented. The culture around the child’s family can be a tell-tale factor if a child will develop diabetes. Therefore, parents should do their best to set an example for their children. We hope this has given you a better understanding of type 2 diabetes in children.

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