Forsyth Medical Center

Diabetes in children

Just 30 years ago, type 2 diabetes in a child was unheard of

In fact, in 1982, type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, accounted for just 2% to 4% of all diabetes cases among children. However, as obesity rates continue to rise so does the incidence of type 2 diabetes in youth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 45% of new diabetes cases in children ages 0 to 19 may be type 2. Researchers are unsure of the extent of the disease, however, because until recently, adequate reporting of type 2 diabetes in children didn't exist as it was widely assumed to be an adults-only disease. That assumption, however, is quickly changing.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that develops when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to regulate sugar in the blood. Obesity is a key indicator for the development of diabetes and in the United States; obesity is rising at an alarming rate. In March 2004, the CDC predicted that obesity would overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable death by 2005. Currently, about 400,000 deaths each year are associated with obesity and 85% of children with type 2 diabetes are obese.

Not only do children with diabetes have to contend with high sugar and low insulin levels, but they also face an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, eye damage and blindness, circulatory problems and nervous system problems for the rest of their lives. And these are serious complications that can be prevented.

Weight loss is vital to the prevention and management of diabetes. As abdominal fat increases, the pancreas is inhibited from producing insulin. Even minor weight-loss, between 8 and 15 pounds, can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 33%. Other risk factors are inactivity, which leads to weight gain, and family history. At least 75% of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes also have a parent or sibling with the disease.