Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs due to problems with insulin function or insulin production. Type 2 diabetes causes a person’s blood sugars to rise. While the condition is more common in adults, it can also affect children.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. Around 90–95% of people with diabetes have type 2.

Over 30 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes, and the number of children with type 2 diabetes is rising.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2002–2015, the rate of new cases of diabetes in people younger than 20 years old increased in the U.S. by 4.8% each year.

This article looks at what type 2 diabetes is, symptoms, diagnosis, causes, risk factors, treatment, complications, prevention, and outlook for children with the condition.

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When a person eats food, their body breaks it down into sugar, which it releases into the bloodstream. When a person’s blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin.

Insulin works like a key that allows the blood sugar to enter the body’s cells, allowing them to use it to create energy.

If a person has type 2 diabetes, either the insulin their pancreas makes doesn’t work correctly, or their pancreas can’t make enough insulin. These problems can cause a person’s blood sugar levels to rise uncontrollably.

If a person has too much blood sugar in their bloodstream for a long period of time, it can cause serious health issues such as heart disease, loss of vision, and kidney disease.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes are similar to symptoms of other types of diabetes. Symptoms can often take time to develop and may continue for a long time before detection.

This means that a child could have type 2 diabetes without knowing.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are generally the same for children and adults. Common symptoms include:

  • frequent urination
  • feeling thirsty
  • feeling hungry even if the person is eating well
  • extreme fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • cuts and bruises that can be slow to heal
  • tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands or feet

To diagnose type 2 diabetes, a doctor will first ask about the child’s symptoms and lifestyle. They may also do a physical examination before taking a blood sample.

This blood sample allows the doctor to check the child’s blood sugar levels. If the blood sugar levels are over a certain amount, the doctor will be able to diagnose them with type 2 diabetes.

A doctor can also use a urine test to check for sugar in the child’s urine.

The pancreas makes insulin, which is a hormone. Insulin helps glucose, which is a form of sugar, make its way into cells so that the cells can use it for energy.

There are two causes of type 2 diabetes: either a child’s pancreas does not make enough insulin, or the body does not respond correctly to the available insulin.

Anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, but there are a number of risk factors that can increase a child’s chances of developing the condition.

There are a number of risk factors that can increase a child’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

Having overweight

A child who has excess weight or obesity is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a child without these.

Obesity can have an adverse effect on the body’s ability to metabolize (process) sugars, even in children.

Children who have obesity have excess levels of insulin in their bloodstream, and are able to metabolize sugar at a rate of approximately 40% less than children who do not have obesity, according to research from 2013. This causes their blood sugar levels to rise.

Obesity can also cause a child to develop insulin resistance. This is when a child’s muscles, fat, and liver do not respond well to insulin. It means they may not take up glucose from the blood well.

Insulin resistance can cause a child’s pancreas to make more insulin. If the pancreas can make enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance, the child’s blood sugar levels may remain typical and they may not develop type 2 diabetes. But if their blood sugar levels do rise, they may develop the condition.

Being physically inactive

If a child is physically inactive, they may have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Regular exercise can help prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity is also important for children who have type 2 diabetes. If a child has type 2 diabetes, regular, structured exercise can offer a number of benefits, including:

  • improved blood glucose control
  • reduced cardiovascular risk factors
  • reaching or maintaining a moderate weight
  • improved general well-being

Insulin resistance

The progression of insulin resistance can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

A number of factors can increase a person’s chance of developing insulin resistance, including:

​​Certain medicines can also contribute to insulin resistance, including glucocorticoids, some antipsychotics, and some medicines for HIV.

Insulin resistance is a component of metabolic syndrome. The development of it may lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Having a close relative with type 2 diabetes

More than 75% of children with type 2 diabetes have a close relative who also has the condition.

This is not always down to genetics. It may also be due to the child sharing certain habits and lifestyle choices with the family member that can increase their risk of developing the condition.

Genetic factors

According to the CDC, people with certain ancestry are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The CDC states that children with the following ancestry are at a higher risk of developing the condition:

  • African American
  • Latino American
  • American Indian
  • Alaska Native
  • Asian American
  • Pacific Islander

The CDC also adds that some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at higher risk.

If a child has type 2 diabetes, they may receive the same treatment as an adult. This will start with certain lifestyle recommendations and may also include medications.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes aims to keep a child’s blood sugar levels within the typical range to avoid complications arising.

A child with type 2 diabetes should learn how to monitor their blood sugar levels. This is so they can adjust their diet or take certain medication if their blood sugar levels become too low or too high.

A doctor will recommend that the child has a moderate, balanced diet and gets regular exercise. This is to ensure they are not getting too much sugar from their diet, and can also help with weight loss.

A doctor may also prescribe insulin medication to help the child manage their blood sugar levels. If the child does take insulin medication, they should still eat a moderate, balanced diet.

Insulin is a common treatment method for people with type 1 diabetes and some people with type 2 diabetes.

A child should take insulin around the same time as they eat meals to allow them to easily process the glucose that enters their system.

The most common form of insulin therapy is through an injection. Other options include insulin pens and pumps, and Victoza.

Another treatment option for children with type 2 diabetes is Metformin, which is the only oral diabetes medication that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for children. A child takes this medication in the form of pills. However, it is important to note that the FDA has recalled the extended-release versions of Metformin.

They should take the pills with meals in order to control their blood sugar levels. These pills work best when a person takes them alongside moderate, balanced meals and regular exercise.

Type 2 diabetes can affect different organs in the body and has a number of possible complications.

If a person with type 2 diabetes does not effectively manage their blood sugar levels, they can increase their risk of developing the following complications.

  • Heart problems and stroke: A person with type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop heart disease. They are also more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which can increase their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy): People with type 2 diabetes can have high blood sugar levels and high levels of fats in their blood, which can damage nerves. Type 2 diabetes can cause damage to a range of different nerves. Symptoms can include pain and numbness in the feet or hands, and problems with the function of internal organs such as the heart and bladder.
  • Kidney disease: High blood sugar levels associated with type 2 diabetes can damage the kidneys. This can cause the kidneys to lose their ability to filter out waste products, leading to kidney disease.
  • Diabetic eye disease: Over time, type 2 diabetes can damage the eyes. This can cause a person to develop poor vision or even blindness. A person with type 2 diabetes should have regular eye tests to monitor how their diabetes might be affecting their vision.
  • Skin conditions: Diabetes can also cause a person to develop a number of skin conditions. These include bacterial infections, fungal infections, and itching.
  • Hearing loss: Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves in a person’s ears, leading to hearing loss.

A person can reduce their risk of all of these complications by carefully managing their blood sugar levels.

Taking all medications as their doctor prescribes and attending all doctors visits are both necessary for a person to successfully manage their blood sugar levels and help reduce the risk of complications from diabetes.

Exercising regularly and eating a moderate, nutritious diet can also help someone manage their blood sugar levels.

There are a number of measures a person can take to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These include:

  • reaching or maintaining a moderate weight
  • eating a moderate, balanced diet
  • being physically active and exercising regularly
  • avoiding drinking sugary drinks
  • avoiding overeating

According to the CDC, children that have type 2 diabetes often receive a diagnosis in their early teens. This can be because hormones that are present during puberty can make it more difficult for the body to use insulin.

This is why it is important that parents and caregivers work to ensure children are eating a healthful diet and maintaining a moderate weight to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in children.

After diagnosis, a child should manage their blood sugar levels using a combination of exercise, diet, and possibly medications.

If a person manages their diabetes well, they can reduce their risks of developing complications and increase their quality of life.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that causes a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high. This condition more commonly affects adults but is becoming more common in children.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include frequent urination, feeling thirsty, feeling hungry, and fatigue.

Complications of type 2 diabetes include heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, and a number of skin conditions.

A person can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by reaching or maintaining a moderate weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthful diet.

If a child has type 2 diabetes, they should try to manage their blood sugar levels as best they can, either on their own or with caregivers’ help. This includes being physically active and eating a healthful diet. A doctor may also treat their diabetes with injections, oral medications, or both.