How a healthy diet can help prevent Type 2 diabetes in kids

Some kids may show no signs of diabetes, and the condition may be caught during a routine wellness check.

Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute

The team of dietitians at Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, part of Norton Children’s Endocrinology, offers nutrition education and guidance to diabetes patients and their families.

Prediabetes in kids is on the rise in the U.S., and the numbers are concerning. Nearly 1 in 5 adolescents, ages 12-18, are living with prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prediabetes is the precursor of Type 2 diabetes. It happens when a child’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to diagnose them with Type 2 diabetes. A recent study shows that regularly attending nutrition visits can significantly reduce the chance of a child with prediabetes developing Type 2 diabetes.

Support for kids with prediabetes

Dietitians and diabetes educators with Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, a part of Norton Children’s Endocrinology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, work with children and their families to implement healthy habits to help manage or prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes. A $15 million gift from the Lift a Life Novak Family Foundation to develop Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute will expand patients’ access to dietitians and is the start of a $60 million vision through the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation to expand diabetes care for children and adults, as well as build the top diabetes institute in the country. One of the institute’s first initiatives will be to provide more patient support through expansion of the current diabetes education program.

“Diabetes educators assist patients and their families with managing their condition by developing individual care plans and goals for living a healthier lifestyle — from managing blood sugar levels to offering guidance on age-appropriate nutrition and physical activity,” said Morgan Kopka, RDN, LD, a diabetes educator with Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute. “We use a family centered care model to provide open-ended communication between providers and families. We work to empower our patients and families to set goals that are achievable for them individually. We also provide support and education to patients and families between office visits.”

Signs of diabetes in kids
Signs of prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes may develop slowly. Some kids may show no signs of diabetes, and the condition may be caught during a routine wellness check.

Some signs of diabetes in kids may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Darkened skin (around folded areas, such as neck, armpits, groin)

Preventing Type 2 diabetes in kids

Many kids at risk of Type 2 diabetes are overweight. Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to help your child grow and develop properly. Eating well and staying active may slow weight gain and even can lead to weight loss. There are health benefits from losing even a little bit of weight.

Balanced nutrition

A very important part of treatment is helping your child eat well. Offer plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains. Educate parents on limiting excess treats and sugar-sweetened beverages. A diabetes educator can explain to families how to choose and cook healthy foods, prepare age-appropriate portion sizes, and read food labels.

Physical activity

Exercise helps lower blood sugars. The key is to move every day. If your child isn’t used to being active, start slowly and set clear goals. They can begin with 15 minutes every day and increase the amount as they are able. Joining a sports team is not necessary — activities like walking the dog, housecleaning and other chores, and playing outside are good options.