What You Should Know About Kids and Diabetes

Help protect your child from type 2 diabetes

kids smiling

Type 2 diabetes used to be thought of as an adult health problem. It was even called “adult-onset diabetes” because it was usually diagnosed in adults. But now, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes are becoming more common in children and teens. Here, learn why and how you can help your child lower his or her risk of diabetes.

What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition caused when the body can’t make or use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps break down the food you eat so your body can use it for energy. Sugar, also known as glucose, builds up in the blood. Diabetes can lead to low energy, infections, and complications such as heart problems or blindness. With:

  • Type 1 diabetes: The body doesn’t make insulin at all. Currently, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes, but there are ways to manage it.
  • Type 2 diabetes: The body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use insulin correctly. The good news is there are ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes as well as manage it.

What Is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes means you are at risk of developing diabetes in the future. Your blood sugar, or the amount of glucose in your blood, is high. It’s not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, but it does mean you should take steps to lower it.

Who Is at Risk?
Some characteristics can increase a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight: Being overweight is the biggest risk factor for diabetes in children and teens, according to the American Diabetes Association.
  • Family history: If a child’s biological mother or father has diabetes, then there is a higher risk that the child will also develop diabetes.
  • Ethnicity: Experts aren’t sure why, but children who are African-American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, Asian-American, or Pacific Islander are at higher risk of developing diabetes.

Steps to Lower Diabetes Risk
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, and staying active are three ways your child can lower his or her risk of diabetes. Help your child make healthy habits for a lifetime. Encourage small changes, such as:

  • Eating a fruit or vegetable at each meal. You can save money by buying produce that’s on sale. Frozen vegetables and canned fruit are also wallet-friendly options, but pick ones without sauces or syrup.
  • Cutting back on desserts and junk food. If you give your child dessert every day, switch to every other day, then a few times a week.
  • Choosing water instead of soda, sports drinks, and other sugary beverages. Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain. Bonus: water is usually free, so you’ll also save money.
  • Being active at least 1 hour a day. It doesn’t have to be 1 hour all at once. It can be walking to school in the morning for 15 minutes, playing in the afternoon for 30 minutes, and riding bikes with the family after dinner for 15 minutes.
  • Limiting TV and video games to 2 hours a day. Sitting too much can lead to weight gain. Gently suggest taking stretch breaks after 20 minutes of sitting.
  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule. Getting enough rest is important for a healthy weight. Plus, it will help your child be alert for school and activities.

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Talk to Your Child’s Doctor
At your child’s next checkup, ask the doctor about your child’s risk for diabetes. Call the doctor sooner if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual tiredness

For more information on kids and diabetes, go to diabetes.org.