Type 2 Diabetes in Children

What is type 2 diabetes in children?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body can't make enough insulin, or can't use insulin normally. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. Insulin is a hormone. It helps sugar (glucose) in the blood get into cells of the body to be used as fuel. When glucose can’t enter the cells, it builds up in the blood. This is called high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). High blood sugar can cause problems all over the body. It can damage blood vessels and nerves. It can harm the eyes, kidneys, and heart.

What causes type 2 diabetes in a child?

The cause of type 2 diabetes is unknown. But it can run in families. It often takes another factor, such as obesity, to bring on the condition.

Which children are at risk for type 2 diabetes?

A child is more at risk for type 2 diabetes if they have any of these risk factors:

  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising regularly
  • Being African American, Hispanic American, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian
  • A low level HDL cholesterol
  • A high triglyceride level
  • Being female
  • Having slightly high blood sugar levels (prediabetes)
  • Their mother had diabetes during pregnancy
  • They had a low birth weight

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in a child?

Type 2 diabetes often causes no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include:                                                                                                                                               

  • Frequent bladder infections
  • Skin infections and wounds that don’t heal easily
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Weight loss despite increased appetite  
  • Excess thirst
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness and severe tiredness (fatigue)
  • Grouchiness (irritability) and mood changes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High levels of glucose in the blood and urine when tested
  • Tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can seem like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed in a child?

Children at higher risk of type 2 diabetes should be screened. Screening may include tests such as:

  • Glycated hemoglobin A1C. This test measures the amount of glucose in red blood cells. It shows the average blood glucose levels for the last 2 to 3 months.
  • Fasting plasma glucose. The blood is tested after at least 8 hours of not eating.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test. This test is done by measuring blood glucose levels 2 hours after drinking a glucose drink. If this test is used for screening, be sure your child has at least 5.25 ounces (150 grams) of carbohydrates per day for 3 days before the test.

Other urine and blood tests may be done to see if your child has type 2 diabetes. 

How is type 2 diabetes treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. The goal of treatment is to keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. Treatment will include:

  • A healthy diet
  • Weight loss, if needed
  • Regular exercise
  • Good hygiene
  • Insulin replacement therapy (under the direction of your child's healthcare provider )
  • Regular checking of blood sugar levels
  • Medicines taken by mouth (oral), if needed

What are possible complications of type 2 diabetes in a child?

Children with type 2 diabetes are at risk for problems such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders

Other possible complications that may show up later in life include:

  • Vascular disease
  • Kidney damage
  • Eye damage
  • Heart disease
  • Damage to the nervous system

What can I do to prevent type 2 diabetes in my child?

Lifestyle changes that may prevent or delay type 2 diabetes include: 

  • A healthy diet
  • Weight loss, if needed
  • Regular exercise

How can I help my child live with type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a long-term (chronic) condition. It requires lifestyle changes in order to keep healthy blood glucose levels. It’s important to work closely with your child's healthcare team to create an ongoing plan that works for your child.

It helps if the whole family makes lifestyle changes together to develop healthy habits. For example:

  • Eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day
  • Eating foods high in fiber and low in fat
  • Eating smaller portion sizes off smaller plates
  • Not having sugary drinks
  • Doing regular physical activity each day, such as sports, bike riding, or walking
  • Limiting screen time to no more than 1 to 2 hours a day, including TV, computer, and video games                                

Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD

Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN

Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN

Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Related Content



Patient Education