Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, has historically not been a concern for children or young people in the United States. However, as childhood obesity remains on the rise, a growing number of children–some as young as 10–are now at risk for being diagnosed with the disease.
Risk Factors: One of the larger risk factors for type 2 diabetes in both children and adults is having an unhealthy weight. The latest data from the State of Childhood Obesity–a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–shows that 1 in 6 American young people has obesity, and South Carolina falls ninth in nationwide state rankings for obesity rates. In South Carolina, over 20 percent of children ages 10 to 17 qualify as obese. In addition to being overweight or obese, risk factors for type 2 diabetes in children include: being born to a mother with gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant), having an immediate family member with the disease, having another medical problem that interferes with the way the body manages insulin, and being African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Alaska Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
Signs of Type 2 Diabetes: Symptoms of type 2 diabetes are similar to those associated with type 1 diabetes, and they may develop so gradually that it’s difficult for parents and caregivers to spot. Childhood diabetes may just be diagnosed during a routine check-up. Some children with undiagnosed diabetes may experience these symptoms: increased hunger and thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, blurry vision, increased infections, and darkened areas of skin around the neck, armpits and/or groin. Unintended weight loss may also be a sign of diabetes, though it tends to be less common in children with Type 2 diabetes.
How to Reduce Your Child’s Risk of Diabetes: One of the most effective ways parents and caregivers can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes is by encouraging a healthy lifestyle at home. Reducing excess belly fat and increasing activity levels are two of the best ways to prevent and control type 2 diabetes in all people. While it may be easier to implement healthy lifestyle strategies when children are very young, new behaviors can be learned at any time. Here are some easy ideas to try as a family:
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables at meal and snack times.
- Try to drink water instead of sports drinks, sodas or juices.
- Involve your children in grocery shopping and preparing family meals.
- Research how to make your favorite meals healthier.
- Bring mealtime back to the dinner table and resist eating in front of TV or devices.
- Learn how to read food labels with your children. Make a ‘game’ out of identifying healthy foods.
- Serve smaller portions and allow children to ask for seconds.
- Don’t insist children ‘clean their plates’ at mealtime.
- Resist rewarding children with sweets and other food items, offer praise instead.
- Help your child to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, either at one time or broken up into 10 to 15 minute intervals throughout the day.
- Sign up for fitness classes together, emphasizing the fun aspects of moving together.
- Encourage kids to try different activities and find one they enjoy doing.
- Limit screen time to 2 hours or less per day.
- Keep physical activity positive and fun-driven.
- Plan weekend outings that include hiking, biking or other forms of physical activity.
- Encourage your child to participate on a sports team, either at school or recreationally.
- Keep physical fitness items, like a jump rope, scooter, etc., around the house and easy to access.
- Take family walks before or after mealtimes.
- Think outside the box when it comes to physical activity–yard work, vacuuming and ‘speed cleaning’ up toys can all count as exercise.
- Keep healthy snacks, like fresh fruits and vegetables, on the counter and easy to access for children.
- Get annual health and wellness screenings from your child’s doctor.
- While managing a healthy weight can be key in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, it’s important to note that children and young people are still growing. If a child or teen is overweight, parents and caregivers should never put them on a weight loss diet without consultation and guidance from their doctor.
There is no doubt that a growing type 2 diabetes problem exists for American children and young people, but motivated parents and caregivers can help reverse this trend for their families with healthy changes at home and regular health screenings. For more information on childhood diabetes, including risk and prevention information, visit www.cdc.gov, www.healthychildren.org, or www.kidshealth.org.