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Diabetes

Obesity & Type 2 Diabetes: A Growing Epidemic in Children

What is Diabetes?

There are two major types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes cause blood sugar levels to become higher than normal. However, they do this in different ways.

In past years, children typically got Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the child's immune system starts to destroy its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type I diabetes is not related to obesity or to dietary intake of sugars.

Type 2 diabetes, the obesity-related form in which the body does not respond to insulin normally, was seen in adults. Children did not typically get Type 2 diabetes; thus it was called adult-onset diabetes.

With rising cases of childhood obesity, children are now getting Type 2 diabetes, and the numbers are increasing rapidly.

Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes aren't always obvious and they can take a long time to develop. Sometimes there are no symptoms. It's important to remember that not everyone with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes develops these warning signs, and not everyone who has these symptoms necessarily has Type 2 diabetes.

But a child or teen who develops Type 2 diabetes may:

Sometimes, children and teens with Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, or obesity may also develop thick, dark, velvet-like skin around the neck, armpits, groin, between fingers and toes, or on elbows and knees - a cosmetic skin condition called acanthosis nigricans.

What to do if I think that my child might have Type 2 diabetes

If you think that your child might have adult-onset diabetes, it is important to seek medical care quickly. Diabetes is a chronic condition that if not properly treated or diagnosed can lead to poor cardiovascular health, strokes, amputations, kidney damage, and blindness.

The initial treatment typically used in children is insulin shots because Type 2 diabetes is often more severe in children than it is in adults. Occasionally, medications taken by mouth can be used which help the insulin work better if the diabetes is caught early. All treatments are aimed at promoting excellent blood sugar control.

Since exercise and weight loss both help insulin to work better and thus to control blood sugars better, both exercise and weight loss can in essence 'cure' diabetes in some patients. However, type 2 diabetes will always return with weight gain and with reduction in exercise.

A child or teen with Type 2 diabetes may need to:

For more information:

Go to the Diabetes health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: May 03, 2011

Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD, MPH Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD, MPH
Former Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University