Type 2 Diabetes in Children
It used to be that type 2 diabetes was a disease of older adults, but its incidence is rising among younger adults, children and teens primarily because of obesity or a family history of type 2 diabetes.
It is possible to prevent type 2 diabetes. Some of the same lifestyle changes you’ll be making to help your child with diabetes will help the rest of your family stay healthy as well.
What Goes Wrong
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes cause blood glucose levels to rise higher than normal. But the reasons why this happens are different. In type 2 diabetes, the body is making insulin, but doesn’t respond to it normally. It resists it, a malfunction that is called insulin resistance. The pancreas tries to compensate by producing more and more insulin, but it goes unused. Over time, this may lead to a total failure of the insulin-producing cells.
The excess insulin is the reason why most children or teens with type 2 diabetes get a dark patch of skin on the back of their necks, armpits or between their fingers or toes. This is called acanthosis nigricans, one of the major ways we can identify children with type 2 diabetes. It may look like dirt, but you can’t wash it off. It will go away, however, when lifestyle changes and diabetes medicine improve the efficiency of insulin in your child’s body.
How Type 2 Diabetes Is Treated
Most of what we know about treating type 2 diabetes is based on experience with adults. The first line of treatment is to strive for weight loss through intensive attention to meal plans and exercise. A dietitian who specializes in pediatrics can help you develop a healthy meal plan. Adding more exercise helps with weight loss and with increasing "insulin sensitivity," better ensuring that glucose gets into the cells where it is needed.
Your child’s progress will be monitored every three months, probably with a blood test called an A1C. This test provides a snapshot of glucose levels over a three-month period. Sometimes self-monitoring of blood glucose with a glucose monitoring device becomes necessary.
Depending on the progress made over the first three to six months, oral (taken by mouth) medications may be added. Sometimes insulin injections are necessary either temporarily or permanently if blood glucose levels remain high.
The longer blood glucose levels remain high, the more harm it can cause down the road. People with type 2 diabetes face the risk of the same complications as those with type 1 diabetes.
Your healthcare team will be your main helpline. But you will find many more resources out there to assist you and your child in adapting to this new reality.
We have an online library with information sheets on such topics as "How is Diabetes Diagnosed," "What is Insulin Resistance," "Will Diabetes Go Away?" as well as on oral medications, nutrition and exercise. We also have an online Joslin Store with books for and about children and teens with diabetes.
We are looking for volunteers to help find the best ways to treat type 2 diabetes in kids.
Page last updated: January 20, 2017