Diabetes is a chronic medical condition in which sugar, or glucose, levels build up in the bloodstream. The hormone insulin helps move the glucose from blood into cells, where it’s used for energy.

With type 2 diabetes, cells don’t respond to insulin well, and in later stages of the disease, the body may not produce enough insulin. This leads to high blood glucose levels, which can damage organs such as the kidneys, eyes, and nerves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 2002, new cases of type 2 diabetes in those younger than 20 has increased about 4.8 percent each year. More than 80 percent of all children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes are overweight and about 40 percent are obese. Increases in obesity is linked to the rising rates of type 2 diabetes.

In addition, most children who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have prediabetes first. Prediabetes means that blood sugar is higher than it should be, but not high enough to be diabetes. The child may not have any symptoms, however it is a warning sign that a child is at risk for getting type 2 diabetes.

Additional risk factors for prediabetes include:

  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being a young teenager, or currently going through puberty
  • Being born to a mom with gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant)
  • Having African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Alaska Native, Asian American, or Pacific Islander ancestry

If a child is overweight and has any two of the risk factors, it is recommended that a doctor tests his or her blood sugar levels. Children who are considered high-risk will usually begin testing at 10-years-old, or when puberty starts, and should continue to be tested every three years.

Some warning signs of prediabetes that parents should look out for include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Low energy levels
  • Blurry vision

If a child is diagnosed with prediabetes, it’s important that the whole family takes action to help support and prevent their child from getting type 2 diabetes. The key to treating prediabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes is getting your child’s blood sugar levels back to a normal range and staying at a healthy weight. Some ways to do so as a family include:

  • Creating a healthy family meal plan together
  • Drinking water instead of sugary drinks
  • Scheduling an hour of family physical activity each day
  • Seeing a dietitian

The Endocrine & Diabetes Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach offers specialized programs designed to diagnose, treat and manage childhood conditions, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, obesity, growth disorders, thyroid disease, hypoglycemia and much more. The comprehensive care team takes a multi-specialty approach for children from birth to 21-years-old with acute and chronic endocrine or metabolic disorders.

Dr. Rebecca Hicks is a pediatric endocrinologist at the Endocrine & Diabetes Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s. Learn more about the services offered at the Endocrine & Diabetes Center.

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