Mar 25, 2022 Is Your Child At Risk For Type 2 Diabetes?

How parents and caregivers can help kids avoid high blood sugar.

Not long ago, Type 2 diabetes—the form of diabetes that is diet-related and develops over time—was rare in children. Now the number of children with Type 2 diabetes is rising, an issue that’s closely linked to the rise in the number of overweight children and teens.

Dennis Brenner, MD
Dennis Brenner, MD
“Type 2 diabetes has the potential for long-term consequences related to the heart, kidneys, eyes and circulation,” says pediatric endocrinologist Dennis Brenner, MD, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. “However, parents and caregivers should know that it can be prevented, and sometimes even cured, by lifestyle changes.”

What are the symptoms?

  • OVERWEIGHT: Children’s weight is evaluated based on their BMI (body mass index)—a ratio of weight to height—which is then compared with the average weight range in their age group. Children whose weight is in the 95th percentile or above are considered obese and are at greater risk for developing diabetes.
  • FREQUENT URINATION: The child’s body may be trying to get rid of extra blood sugar by passing it out in urine.
  • THIRST: The child’s body craves fluids to make up for the frequent urination.
  • FATIGUE: The child is often tired because the body can’t process sugar for energy.
  • THICK OR DARK PATCHES IN THE SKIN: An elevated insulin level may cause this condition, especially in the folds or creases of skin.

If one or more of these conditions is present, the pediatrician may order a test to measure the levels of glucose in the child’s blood and may make a referral to a pediatric endocrinologist.

How is Type 2 diabetes in children treated?

  • WITH HEALTHY EATING: “That means eating fewer carbohydrates—things like pasta, rice, bread and desserts—and more vegetables, fruits and proteins,” says Dr. Brenner. “Avoid sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks. If a young patient or their family needs help in adjusting their diet, registered dietitians at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center can help.”
  • WITH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Exercise and movement allow the body to use insulin more efficiently.
  • WITH MEDICATION: “If healthy eating and activity don’t control blood sugar, Type 2 diabetes is typically treated with metformin, the same drug that adults use,” says Dr. Brenner. “Insulin or other, newer medications may be used as well.”
  • WITH EDUCATION: “As kids develop and grow, learning about proper nutrition is just as important as learning about math and reading or other school subjects,” he says. “Let’s teach our children how to take care of their bodies before problems develop.”

Keep Kids Healthy And Active

Today’s busy families often have an uphill battle when it comes to making sure children eat well and move enough, says Deanna Schweighardt, RDN, CDCES, Nutrition Counseling at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center. Her advice:

  • When there’s no time to cook, take advantage of prepared foods at the supermarket—cut-up vegetables, bagged salads, rotisserie (not fried) chicken.
  • Keep healthy snacks in the house, including fruit cups without added sugar, whole-grain crackers with cheese or with peanut butter or almond butter, hummus on a tortilla and low-fat yogurt with fruit.
  • At meals, aim to have everyone fill half their plate with vegetables, a quarter with whole grains and a quarter with protein. Fruit makes for a sweet dessert.
  • After school, have children drink eight ounces of water, eat a healthy snack and move around to “get the wiggles out” for at least 20 minutes before doing homework.
  • Reduce or cut out sugary beverages, including juice.
  • “Water is the healthiest option and can be infused with fruits for a hint of flavor,” Schweighardt says. “Naturally flavored seltzers can be a good alternative for soda. Fruit juices, even the 100 percent fruit kind, are high in natural sugars. If your child is going to drink juice, dilute it by adding water.”
  • For healthy, kid-friendly recipes, such as chicken fingers and raspberry smoothie pops, Schweighardt recommends the American Diabetes Association’s website

What is Type 2 diabetes?

A kid-friendly explanation

  • When you eat food, you get glucose, a sugar that is a source of fuel for your body.
  • Your pancreas (a small gland behind the stomach) produces a hormone called insulin to help the body use the glucose.
  • When a person has Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to process the glucose.
  • Levels of sugar in the body become too high. This can cause a person to be tired and can lead to damage to other parts of the body.
  • The good news is that Type 2 diabetes can be treated with a healthy diet and physical activity.

Find a pediatrician at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.