Type 2 diabetes is a dangerous disease associated with incorrect production and use of insulin. However, if you identify the condition early, improvements won’t be hard to reach. In this article, we will dwell on signs of type 2 diabetes in young kids and ways to reach better health for them.

How Does Type 2 Diabetes in Children Work?

In the condition of type 2 diabetes, the human body can’t produce sufficient amounts of insulin and can’t use it right even when it is produced. This disease is known as a metabolic disorder that impacts practically all systems and organs of the body. And if causes of diabetes mellitus in adults are well known, and the development of the illness can be tracked and logically explained, what causes type 2 diabetes in children is still a mystery in 2022.

There are ideas that the condition runs in families and generations, and the ideas that lifestyle matters as much as genetics. Which of these theories explaining reasons for type 2 diabetes in children are right and wrong, we will discover in this article.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Objectively, the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in kids are the same as those observed in adult patients. Still, you cannot always notice them easily since the intensity of a symptom might be different at a different time. Many children don’t feel them or get so much used to feeling tired or sleepy all the time that they stop complaining about it. If you want to make sure your child is healthy and doesn’t risk getting type 2 diabetes, they shouldn’t have any of these signs.

7 common symptoms of type 2 diabetes

Still, you have to realize that not all kids might show these symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children, and only your healthcare provider can set the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in a kid or make your suspicions go away.

Excessive Fatigue

Type 2 diabetes in children is often shown through their behavior. Since blood sugar levels impact the condition of the nervous system, these kids can be passive, easily get tired, or be sleepy in an unusual time of the day.

Frequent Urination

The human kidneys are very sensitive to any changes in blood sugar levels. They try to save the situation and lead the excess glucose out of the body through urine. Hence, for children with type 2 diabetes, it is typical to produce more urine than usual and go to the bathroom more often.

Excessive Thirst

Losing so much fluid is logically resulting in the increased need for drinking. In such a way, children have a dry mouth and try to compensate for the lost liquid and keep the body hydrated. Still, among these warning signs of type 2 diabetes in children, this one is the easiest to confuse or overlook.

Increased Hunger

When body cells don’t get enough glucose, they tend to be very ‘demanding,’ metaphorically saying. Having too little fuel to run all the body processes, they send the signals of ‘hunger,’ and the next available source of glucose becomes food. Children with type 2 diabetes might crave meals too often or be unsatisfied with the usual size of their portions. Scientifically, this condition is named polyphagia, meaning increased hunger that, however, doesn’t disappear when a person eats something.

It is also known that polyphagia is accompanied by dizziness, headaches, difficulties with focusing attention, intense sweating (and, hence, drinking), and even shaking.

Doctors say increased hunger might develop on the basis of stress and other medical conditions, which are hard to spot on your own. That is why a good decision is to have your kid’s blood glucose tested and check the thyroid function.

Slow-Healing Sores

Wound healing becomes slower in children with type 2 diabetes as the abnormal blood glucose levels prevent the cells from getting the necessary nutrients and energizing them. Still, the wider picture shows us that slower wound healing is connected to something more than a dysfunction on a cellular level. A child’s immune system can’t be strong due to insulin resistance, so any inflammation, in this case, becomes a real problem.

Besides, the damage brought to cells and nerves by glucose spikes leads to insensitive nerves and blood vessels. Everything is connected in the body as glucose levels get high. Swelling, constant pain or the total loss of sensations on the injured areas that don’t heal for a long period of time can be a sign you need to see a doctor immediately.

Darkened Skin

In most cases, the areas that become dark are armpits and neck. In the medical world, it is called acanthosis nigricans. The term also includes wider areas with darkened skin such as elbows, knees, feet. These skin areas also tend to be thick and feel like velvet. However, this can often be a result of taking certain medication or a hereditary sign, not necessarily pointing to diabetes. Anyway, you can’t say what it is by looks. Sure thing, this is not a purely aesthetic condition and requires attention from a doctor.

Which Kids Are at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

The frequency of type 2 diabetes in children relies on the family background that a child is born into. In most cases, families affect children both in a genetical way and in helping them adopt certain lifestyle habits. None of these factors must be overlooked. Generally, doctors single out a few groups of children who have more risks than other children to get type 2 diabetes. They are as follows.

Type 2 diabetes risk factors


Having a Family Member with Type 2 Diabetes

Children whose families have one or more members with type 2 diabetes are often genetically predisposed. Still, a big role is played by shared habits and unhealthy diets of families living together. Overweight kids (with a high Body Mass Index, i.e., over 25) have higher risks because of the fatty tissue that leads to insulin resistance.

Being Born to a Mom with Gestational Diabetes

The reason is that these children develop obesity sooner than others. During pregnancy, some women’s hormones strongly impact the usual ‘life’ of another hormone – insulin. This results in children inheriting the condition.

Being African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is more common among the kids who are African Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanic Americans. Here also belong Asian Americans and Alaska inhabitants. This is explained mostly by genetic traits, body types (ways in which body fat is accumulated), and shared lifestyles of the representatives of these ethnicities.

Having One or More Conditions Related to Insulin Resistance

Diabetes type 2 in children often goes with other conditions, and it’s vital to recognize both. Children who have high blood sugar levels, tolerance to glucose, or signs of insulin resistance are more often diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Other Causes of Type 2 Diabetes in Children

We cannot limit cases of type 2 diabetes in kids just to the fact of belonging to a race, being born with a certain weight, or family history. Other risk factors include:

  • Those with high triglyceride levels.
  • Kids with low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, or ‘good’ cholesterol.
  • Those who don’t exercise regularly.
  • Age and sex.

It was proven that teens of different sex have different risks of developing diabetes. Girls develop type 2 diabetes twice as often as boys of the same age. Perhaps, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets are also contributing to this fact. Anyway, statistics on type 2 diabetes in children show that nearly 19% of American youth is impacted by obesity, and this includes kids aged 2-19, as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

The Best Diet for Type 2 Diabetes in Kids

The food your child eats can either be a trigger for type 2 diabetes or an effective part of treatment. By sticking to a balanced diet, any disease can be kept in stable remission, so we encourage you not to lose hope and strive to make healthier choices every day. What we should emphasize is that a child with type 2 diabetes is still a child who needs all groups of foods, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. None of them are evil or forbidden. The point is to choose healthier fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, for instance, by replacing French fries with baked potatoes or wholegrain cereals.

Products to Eat

You should make a meal plan for your child, relying on their age, physical activity, daily schedule, and weight for it to work effectively. More general recommendations concerning what types of food to eat are given below.

  • Include at least 5 portions of any vegetables and fruits daily.
  • Choose lean meat such as chicken without the skin part, turkey, beef, not fatty pork, poultry, and fish.
  • Don’t neglect healthy oils such as olive, sesame, corn, sunflower, canola, avocado, or soybean oils.
  • Choose dairy products with lower fat percent. Here belong all types of cheese and unsweetened yogurt.
  • Use cooking methods that don’t require adding fat: boiling, grilling, steaming, poaching, baking, etc.
  • Choose butter without trans fats (partially hydrogenated fats).
  • Always include foods that are high in fiber: whole grains and cereals, beans, fresh or frozen fruits, and veggies.

The amounts of different food groups that should be included in each plate are visually represented in the picture below.

Products to eat

Products to Avoid

Doctors usually recommend limiting simple sugars, especially refined white sugar and the so-called ‘empty calories’ – foods with many calories but too little nutrients. These foods are undesired because they make the blood sugar levels go up too fast, and the body of a child with type 2 diabetes surely will not benefit from it.

This is also related to the high glycemic index of products that you can see in the chart below. It is easy to notice that the more refined or processed food is, the higher its glycemic load. Foods with a lower glycemic index contain fewer carbs and result in a slower increase in blood sugar levels. This is the main reason why doctors recommend limiting everything sugary and focus on fresh and baked veggies, whole grains, fruit, nuts, etc.

Western refined foods Unrefined traditional foods
Food Glycemic index Glycemic load Food Glycemic index Glycemic load
Glucose 97 96.8 Parsnips 97 19.5
Rice Krispie cereal 88 77.3 Baked potato 85 18.4
Cornflakes 84 72.7 Boiled millet 71 16.8
Lifesavers 70 67.9 Boiled broad beans 79 15.5
Rice cakes 82 66.9 Boiled couscous 65 15.1
Table sugar (sucrose) 65 64.9 Boiled sweet potato 54 13.1
Shredded wheat cereal 69 57.0 Boiled brown rice 55 12.6
Graham crackers 74 56.8 Banana 53 12.1
Grapenuts cereal 67 54.3 Boiled yam 51 11.5
Cheerio cereal 74 54.2 Boiled garbanzo beans 33 9.0
Rye crispbread 65 53.4 Pineapple 66 8.2
Vanilla wafers 77 49.7 Grapes 43 7.7
Corn chips 73 46.3 Kiwi fruit 52 7.4
Mars bar 68 42.2 Carrots 71 7.2
Stone wheat thins 67 41.9 Boiled peas 48 6.8
Shortbread cookies 64 41.9 Boiled beets 64 6.3
Granola bar 61 39.3 Boiled kidney beans 27 6.2
Angel food cake 67 38.7 Apple 39 6.0
Bagel 72 38.4 Boiled lentils 29 5.8
Doughnuts 76 37.8 Pear 36 5.4
White bread 70 34.7 Watermelon 72 5.2
Waffles 76 34.2 Orange 43 5.1
All bran cereal 42 32.5 Cherries 22 3.7
Whole wheat bread 69 31.8 Peach 28 3.1
Fructose 23 22.9 Peanuts 14 2.6

To complete the list, the foods to avoid include: sugar-sweetened beverages, meals that are high in salt, trans fats, white bread, pasta, and rice, fried meals, yogurts sweetened with agave syrup, or fructose. These include store-bought biscuits, sweets, cakes, pies, and even smoothies based on fruit juice.

How to Help Your Overweight Child

As a parent or relative, you naturally want to improve a kid’s health and contribute to changing the diet of a child with type 2 diabetes. This is strongly focused on helping a kid achieve a healthy weight and acquiring new healthy eating habits.

So, what can you do in this situation?

Tip #1. Be a Good Role Model.

Children are usually modeling the behaviors they see in their family. Since parents and other family members who live in the house are the most influential for the child, they shape attitudes and eating habits. It takes just a simple routine of eating generous servings of salad or baking healthy homemade pies with wholewheat flour, and the kid will already be impacted in a good way. Organize healthy snacks, take kids with you on a 15-minute gymnastics break – these small steps matter more than you can imagine.

Tip #2. Keep Child-Sized Portions.

Oftentimes, the issue with eating habits is not in what a child eats but in ‘how much’ food a child consumes. Make it a norm to start with small plates and allow additional servings only if they were too active during the day and if a child asks for it. Watch out for high-calorie foods and their amount on the plate.

Tip #3. Limit Kids’ Screen Time and Get More Time for Sleep.

Good sleep is, perhaps, one of the most underestimated cures. Sleeping in a dark cool room from 11 P.M.to 8 or 9 A.M. is very beneficial for a kid’s hormonal system. Besides, the lack of sleep makes children crave more food to get the energy that they could have got through a good night’s sleep.

Tip #4. Encourage a HEALTHY Calorie Deficit.

Please, do not overdo with weight loss goals for your child or family member. A healthy weight loss takes place only when the calorie deficit does not go beyond 500 calories a day. For kids, this number is even lower.

Tip #5. Make Fruits and Veggies More Available.

If you think that plant-based foods are more expensive, you are mistaken. At any time of the year, you can buy seasonal fruits, berries, and veggies that are quite cheap. Another trick to make them a habit for your child is to blend them for breakfast or add them as a part of cereal topping, leave sufficient portions of fruits everywhere in the house, and so on.

Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes in Kids

To wrap the previous tips up of how to manage type 2 diabetes in children, what you need to do to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in a kid is:

  • Maintaining healthy body weight.
    Adequate calorie deficits, physical activity, normal portions for children, and limiting harmful foods is the basis of keeping a good weight.
  • Eating healthy food and planning meals in advance.
    Let your freezer always have some veggies or berries in store for a veggie-and-fruit smoothie or a cream soup. Making such a reserve is crucial, especially if you’ve busy working days.
  • Exercising regularly.
    Taking up sports is not just useful but enjoyable too. Make sure your kid knows it.
  • Consulting your doctor and measuring blood pressure.

There is no reason to forget taking health tests and controlling type 2 diabetes development. Knowing how a kid’s body responds to the changes in the diet and what exactly changes is vital, so keep in touch with your doctor.

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