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Type 2 diabetes in children

Type 2 diabetes used to be seen as a condition affecting adults, or an adult onset disease.

However, type 2 diabetes is increasingly found in children and teenagers, and experts believe this is linked to an increase in childhood obesity and a lack of exercise.

Most children with diabetes have the type 1 kind that is not linked to obesity.

There are now over 500 children and young people in England and Wales with type 2 diabetes.

A survey of under-17s in the UK published by Public Health England found that 95% of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were overweight and 83% were obese.

Children from minority ethnic groups also had a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes than caucasian children.

Data from the National Child Measurement Programme in English schools shows that 9.1% of 4 and 5 year olds and 19.1% of 10 and 11 year olds are obese.

What is type 2 diabetes in children?

In a child with type 2 diabetes cells in their body are resistant to the effects of the hormone insulin that helps the body process sugars, so glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

These high levels can cause damage and complications over time, including heart disease, blindness and kidney failure.

What are the risk factors for type 2 diabetes in children?

A child's chances of developing type 2 diabetes may be increased if they:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Have hormone-related conditions
  • Are from some ethnic groups, including Asian and African Caribbean
  • Consume an unhealthy diet
  • Don’t do much exercise.

Being overweight or obese is the major type 2 diabetes risk factor for children – doubling their chances of developing the condition.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children?

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes in a child may develop over time, but seek medical advice if your child has symptoms, including:


How is type 2 diabetes in children diagnosed?

A doctor will make a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in a child based on their symptoms, their weight, a physical examination, and tests including blood tests for glucose levels.

Tests may show blood glucose levels are not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, but pre-diabetes may be diagnosed if they are higher than normal.

How is type 2 diabetes in children treated?

Treatment for a child's type 2 diabetes may include:

  • Medication to help the body manage blood glucose levels
  • Losing weight if overweight or obese - doing more exercise and eating healthily, including watching portion sizes.

The diabetes care team will usually involve the child's GP, diabetes nurse and a dietitian. The child’s school will need to know about the condition if medication needs to be taken during the school day, or in the event of problems with high or low blood sugar at school.

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