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Weighing In On Kids and Type 2 Diabetes

You've probably heard the news: Type 2 diabetes, a condition once reserved for the "over 45" set, is rapidly increasing among children and adolescents, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

The increasing number of children with type 2 diabetes is especially alarming because the longer you have diabetes, the greater your chance of developing serious complications such as blindness, heart disease, kidney problems and stroke.

How do you know if your child is at risk for type 2 diabetes and what can you do about it? Read on for some answers.

Type 2 Diabetes in Kids: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin or can't properly use the insulin that it produces. When the body can't respond normally to insulin, glucose builds up in the blood.

Type 2 diabetes sometimes is difficult to detect in children because symptoms may be mild or absent. However, symptoms still play a key role in diagnosing type 2 diabetes in children. These symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent urination, tiredness or lack of energy, and acanthans nigricans (darkening of the skin between the fingers and toes and near the shoulder blades). If your child displays one of these symptoms, it doesn't necessarily mean he or she has type 2 diabetes, but a visit to the doctor is a good idea.

According to the ADA, risk factors for type 2 diabetes in children include:

  • Being overweight—as many as 80 percent of children are overweight when diagnosed
  • Being older than 10 years of age and in middle-to-late puberty (although some children with type 2 diabetes are younger)
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being a member of certain racial/ethnic groups (African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indians, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Alaskan Natives)

Being Overweight: A Risk Your Family Can Avoid

The recent increase in type 2 diabetes among children parallels the rising number of overweight children. For that reason, some experts believe that being overweight is the most significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes in children. In a way, that's good news because being overweight is the one risk factor you and your family can take charge of.

A physically active lifestyle and good eating habits are central to preventing weight problems. Here at you and your kids will find lots of fun activities and tips designed to promote a healthy weight. If your child is already overweight, ask your child's doctor or a registered dietitian (RD) for advice on the best treatment plan.

For more information about diabetes, go to the American Diabetes Association Web site at

Learn more:

Four Steps for Helping an Overweight Child
Make Fitness a Family Affair
Tip the Calorie Balance in Your Family's Favor

Reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Panel, 2006