Kansas City,
10:21 AM

How to Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Dr. Yun Yan, Director of Endocrine Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Program

Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem for our youth in this country. What was once considered an adult disease is now becoming more prevalent in children ages 10 to 18 years old. The good news is, it is preventable and reversible if it treated appropriately.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to be used properly and blood sugar levels rise higher than normal. If left untreated, excess blood sugar can cause long-term damage to the body including eyes, kidneys and nerves. It also doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes, but in most cases it’s related to lifestyle and is usually linked to being overweight.

Puberty and Diabetes Risk

What we’ve seen over the past two decades is more children ages 11 – 15 years old being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Children going through puberty are at higher risk than younger children, because they’re going through a growth spurt, they feel hungry all the time and they have regular weight gain during this period. They also start to have hormone changes, which can make their bodies more resistant to insulin.

During this time, it’s more important than ever to make sure your child is making healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise.

Warning Signs

If your child has abnormal weight gain and has a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 85 percentile they’re at risk. That’s why a yearly wellness check is extremely important. Your pediatrician monitors your child’s weight and checks their BMI during these appointments, which helps pinpoint concerning trends that need to be addressed.

On the flip side, unexpected weight loss is also concerning. Your child should not be losing weight if they’re not trying to. This is a sign of insufficient insulin and the body is burning fat and muscle for energy.

Other warning signs include increased urination and thirst. Nighttime is a good indicator. If your child once slept through the night, but is now frequently getting up to go to the bathroom and drink water you should call your healthcare provider because most likely your child’s blood sugar is too high.

Treating and Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

Modifying lifestyle is the best way to treat Type 2 diabetes and it works most of the time. Sometimes insulin is needed to help bring blood sugar levels down, but it doesn’t mean your child will need to use insulin the rest of their lives.

The first thing you should do is step back and assess the situation. How many beverages containing sugar is your child drinking a day? What does their meal portion size look like? What do they eat for snacks? Are they eating at bedtime? What is their activity level?

Eating healthy and exercising is key to reversing or preventing Type 2 diabetes altogether. Make sure your child is eating plenty of vegetables, while reducing the potion size of carbohydrates (which increases blood sugar) and beverages containing sugar. Your child should also get at least an hour of physical activity a day and limit screen time.

Start with Small Changes

I often hear eating healthy is expensive, but write down all money you’re spending on soda and chips, and you’ll be surprised! Instead of buying junk foods, sweets and sugary drinks, use that money to buy vegetables, protein and good fats. Also, the next time you go out to eat, order water instead of soda and it’ll save you a couple dollars per family member. Eating healthy is doable and affordable when you’re spending money on food that is good for your body.

I know making lifestyle changes can be overwhelming, so start small. Focus on two-or-three changes at a time and set goals you can obtain. For instance, limit sugary drinks. Walk up-and-down the stairs a couple of times. Stand the next time you’re watching TV instead of sitting on the couch. Every little thing helps.

Also, know the entire family needs to be committed to these changes. You can’t eat pizza and drink soda for dinner, and expect your child to eat carrots and peas. Everyone has to work together to be healthy, but don’t give up. Even if you take two steps forward and one step back, that’s ok. It takes work, so don’t lose hope. It’s never too late to make changes!


Learn more about Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at Children’s Mercy.

Learn more about Diabetes: Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2.

Learn more about childhood diabetes and effective diabetes management in school.