Prediabetes & Type 2 Diabetes in Children
By Heather Choat, MD, Pediatric Endocrinologist - Dothan Pediatric Subspecialty Clinic
Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) happens when blood sugar levels are too high because the body cannot use insulin properly. Prediabetes is when the blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to meet the cutoff for diabetes.
Prediabetes is usually present before someone is diagnosed with overt T2D. Interestingly, people with prediabetes may be able to return blood sugar levels back to normal and prevent or delay the progression to T2D. While family history and genetics play a role, the biggest risk factor in the development of prediabetes or T2D is excessive weight gain.
It’s no secret that with the increase in pediatric obesity, there has been an increase in the prevalence of prediabetes and T2D in children. In fact, in the past two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of hospitalizations for new-onset T2D doubled in youth. Interruption to usual routines and activities lead to more sedentary days for many people. This can also contribute to increased snacking and consumption of sugary foods and drinks – all of which lead to weight gain.
Once a diagnosis of prediabetes or T2D is made, children often need oral medication and routine blood sugar checking at home. Ultimately, if not managed, the high blood sugar levels can lead to pancreas exhaustion and the need for long-term daily insulin shots.
However, there are ways to prevent children from getting prediabetes or T2D. These methods deal mostly with maintaining healthy body weight.
By completely avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages and replacing them with water or switching to “diet” or “zero” drinks, a child’s blood sugar trend may improve significantly. By sticking to age-appropriate calorie limits, weight may begin to decrease even if one is not able to exercise daily. Ask your pediatrician about healthy drinks, snacks, and an appropriate calorie limit for your child if there is any question.
Signs your child may need to be tested for prediabetes or T2D are frequent urination, frequent thirst, or darkening of the skin around the base of the neck with recent weight gain, especially if there is strong family history.
Ensure children have activities to keep them moving over the summer to avoid excessive weight gain while out of school. Keeping an active routine is one of the best ways to prevent sedentary behavior and extra snacking. Prevention is key!