Type 2 Diabetes in Children - Topic Overview

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This topic provides information about type 2 diabetes in children. If you are looking for information about type 1 diabetes, see the topic Type 1 Diabetes: Children Living With the Disease.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease that develops when the pancreas camera.gif cannot make enough insulin or when the body's tissues cannot use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body's cells use sugar (glucose) for energy. It also helps the body store extra energy in muscle, fat, and liver cells.

Without insulin, the sugar cannot get into the cells to do its work. It stays in the blood instead. This can cause high blood sugar levels. A person has diabetes when the blood sugar stays too high too much of the time.

Over time, high blood sugar can cause problems with the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. High blood sugar also makes a person more likely to get serious illnesses or infections.

In the past, doctors believed that type 2 diabetes was an adult disease and that type 1 diabetes was a children's disease. Now, more and more children are getting type 2 diabetes.

Finding out that your child has diabetes can be scary. But your child can live a long, healthy life by learning to manage the disease.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Doctors do not know exactly what causes diabetes. Experts believe the main risks for children getting type 2 diabetes are being overweight, not being physically active, and having a family history of the disease.

Also, the hormones released during the early teen years make it harder than usual for the body to use insulin correctly. This problem is called insulin resistance. It can lead to diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

Most children with type 2 diabetes do not have symptoms when the disease is first found. If there are symptoms, they usually are mild and may include:

  • Having to urinate more often.
  • Feeling a little more thirsty than normal.
  • Losing a little weight for no clear reason.


How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

A simple blood test is usually all that is needed to diagnose diabetes. Your child's doctor may do other blood tests if it is not clear whether your child has type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

A doctor may test your child for diabetes if he or she is overweight, gets little physical activity, or has other risk factors for the disease. A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of having a disease. Some children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when they have a blood or urine test for some other reason.

How is it treated?

The key to treating diabetes is to keep your child's blood sugar levels within a target range. To do this:

  • Keep track of your child's blood sugar levels. This will help you and your child learn how different foods and activities affect his or her blood sugar. Your doctor can teach you and your child how to do this.
  • Teach your child to make healthy food choices.
    • Help your child to eat about the same amount of carbohydrate at each meal. This helps keep your child's blood sugar steady. Carbohydrate affects blood sugar more than other nutrients. It is found in sugar and sweets, grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and milk and yogurt.
    • Talk to your doctor, a diabetes educator, or a dietitian about an eating plan that will work for your child. There are many ways to manage how much and when your child eats.
  • Help your child stay active. Your child does not have to start a strict exercise program, but being more active can help control blood sugar. For example, your child could play outside with friends, take walks with family members, or take part in sports.
  • Set a good example. It will be easier for your child if the rest of the family also eats well and gets regular exercise. This may also reduce the risk that other family members will get the disease.
  • If your child needs medicine for diabetes, make sure that he or she takes it as prescribed.


You play a major role in helping your child take charge of his or her diabetes care. Let your child do as much of the care as possible. At the same time, give your child the support and guidance he or she needs.

The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely he or she is to have problems, such as diseases of the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. But if your child can control his or her blood sugar levels every day, it may help to delay the start of or prevent some of these problems later on.

Even when you are careful and do all the right things, your child can have problems with high or low blood sugar. It is important to know what signs to look for and what to do if this happens.

Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Helping your child stay at a healthy weight and get regular exercise can help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about type 2 diabetes in children:

Being diagnosed:

Preventing the disease:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with a child who has type 2 diabetes:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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