How to prevent Type 2 diabetes in children

Obesity puts kids at risk for Type 2 diabetes, a disease that before the 1990s was believed to be very rare in children.

In Kentucky, 20.8% of kids age 10 to 17 are obese. That’s the third-highest obesity rate in the country among this age group, according to the “State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy” project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

How can parents help prevent Type 2 diabetes in children?

Obesity puts kids at risk for Type 2 diabetes, a disease that before the 1990s was believed to be very rare in children. In fact, it was so rare that Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes. Adding to the risks for kids who develop Type 2 diabetes, studies indicate that diabetes progresses more rapidly in children than in adults and is harder to treat.

Lack of physical activity and poor eating habits are the primary reasons for the obesity statistics. Weight gain in part causes the body to not make enough insulin and/or not use the insulin properly to process sugar, causing the person to become insulin-resistant.

Poorly controlled diabetes significantly increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eye problems, nerve damage, amputation and kidney failure. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for these complications. That means children who develop diabetes may experience these complications much earlier in life than people who are diagnosed as adults.

The good news is that there are ways to lower the Type 2 diabetes risk through prevention.  Small, simple changes through increasing daily physical activity and eating a healthier diet can help. Even a small amount of weight loss can help prevent or delay diabetes.

Helping kids reach and maintain a healthy weight as part of diabetes prevention

To help children reach and maintain a healthy weight, specialists at Norton Children’s Hospital recommend the following:

      • Begin at birth. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity.
      • Watch food intake. Control meal portions, snacks and sugary drinks.
      • Eat healthy. Serve five portions of fruits and/or vegetables every day. Make healthy snack foods easy to find in the kitchen — place grapes, carrots or plain popcorn on the counter.

    Wendy Novak Diabetes Center

    UofL Physicians – Pediatric Endocrinology

    Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes care

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    • Limit fast food. If you have to hit the drive-thru, choose salads or grilled sandwiches and hold the mayo; order the kid-size meal.
    • Drink more water. Add fresh fruit or veggies, such as strawberries or slices of cucumber, to add variety.
    • Be active as a family. Schedule one hour of exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be a formal workout at a gym. Turn up the music and dance; play games like tag or hide-and-seek; go to the park; play interactive video games on a Wii or similar gaming system.
    • Limit television/computer time. Limit screen time to two hours or less each day.
    • Set goals. Post goals and acknowledge them daily; reward successes with nonfood items.
    • Know your child’s weight. Discuss concerns with your pediatrician.


Signs of diabetes in children

Children with Type 2 diabetes often feel no different. However, these are some common symptoms to watch for:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent or nighttime urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Unusual fatigue

If you notice any of these, contact your child’s pediatrician.


Norton Children’s Endocrinology

Our board-certified pediatric endocrinologists create personalized treatment plans that match the needs of each child to help them live life to the fullest.
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