5 Signs your Child is at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

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What is Type 2 Diabetes and How Does it Present in Children?

Your child doesn’t eat a pile of chocolate chip cookies and “get diabetes.” As a parent it’s crucial to be aware of early symptoms of the chronic condition as they surface gradually. 

Catching diabetes in its early stages gives you the chance to reverse the process before it is too late. Type 2 diabetes (T2D)affects how your child's body processes sugar - or glucose - which has dangerous consequences. Catching symptoms sooner rather than later will help prevent your child from injected insulin dependence.

How Do I Know if My Child is at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

The three leading factors that put your child at greatest risk for T2D are obesity, family history, and a sedentary lifestyle.


Overweight or obese children are at greatest risk for factors associated with T2D which include: 

·      Insulin resistance 

·      High blood pressure

·      High cholesterol 


The majority of children diagnosed with T2D — up to 90%—  have a close relative or parent with diabetes. Children with mothers who had diabetes while pregnant are at greatest risk.  

Sedentary Lifestyle:

Your muscles need to move in order to work well and to help process your blood sugar. 

Without proper movement, insulin doesn’t work as well. With our children spending more and more hours on video games or in front of a computer, being sedentary is a major risk factor T2D.

Ask the right questions!

Is there anyone in the immediate family diabetes? Is your child getting enough exercise? Are they overweight or obese compared to their peers? 

 If the answer is “yes” then make sure you are aware of the following signs.

5 Serious Signs of Type 2 Diabetes in Children

1. Skin Changes

Dark skin around the back of the neck. 

Does it look like your child has a dirty neck? Are you sending them back into the shower to scrub more and no matter what they do, this “dirt” won’t come off the back of their neck?

Well, that’s because it’s not dirt. 

This dark area around the skin is known as “acanthosis nigricans.” 

This skin change comes from extra insulin in your child’s body.  Extra insulin in the bloodstream stimulates the pigment cells in the back of the neck, creating this tell-tale sign of pre-diabetes. 

Ancanthosis is one of the clearest signs of insulin resistance and should be addressed by your child’s doctor. By helping insulin levels come down, your child’s overall weight and health will also improve. Acanthosis itself can get lighter over time.

2. Wardrobe Challenges — Is your child struggling to fit into their jeans?

As a parent, you need to have a heightened level of awareness when it comes to abdominal adiposity— AKA “belly fat” — as it tends to stir up metabolic trouble.

An increased abdominal circumference means your child’s body is storing fat in a pattern likely to promote diabetes. Abdominal fat secretes chemicals that prevent insulin from working efficiently, which sends blood sugars on the rise. 

This rise in blood sugar levels will cause the pancreas to work harder to secrete more insulin to control blood sugar, leading to an environment that presents as T2D.

3. Persistent Hunger

Does your child set out looking for food 90 minutes to 2 hours after eating? 

This can be a sign that your child is making extra insulin to control blood sugar levels. If a child insulin resistant — meaning their body still produces insulin but it doesn’t work as it should — they need more insulin than other children eating the same meal. 

After the meal is digested and all the sugars are processed, the extra insulin stays around, looking for more sugar and carbohydrates. Parents observe this as a child who is seeking out food more frequently than other family members. 

And in particular, seeking out carbohydrate sources like crackers, bread or a bowl of cereal.

4. Slowing Down

Is your child complaining about PE class or run slower than they did last year? Are they slow compared to peers when they run 1 mile?

Many of my younger patients — 9 and 10 years old — are very aware of how they compare to

their peers in PE class. While they might not be sensitive to how they look or fit into clothes,

they do notice how they compare to their friends when they run the mile. 

Kids who are slowing down might be embarrassed about their mile time, and start to dread a class that they used to consider fun. 

Kids who are gaining weight too quickly often experience difficulty with sports and movement. This extra weight gain puts them at risk for T2D, especially when it runs in the family. 

5. Closing the Door

One of the most common complaints about parents of teens is that they spend all their time in their room with the door closed.  This is true of almost all teens at some point – regardless of how healthy they are!

But kids at risk for T2D are commonly overweight or obese, and withdraw more than their healthy peers. Especially children who don’t enjoy sports. Whether they just feel uncomfortable running around, are slower than their peers, or get cut from the team, overweight and obese children have fewer opportunities to be active after school.

This often leads to more time spent at home, in a room, or behind a screen. And more sedentary time leads to - you guessed it– more weight gain and a higher risk for diabetes! 

If your child is spending a lot of time in their room, and spends hardly any time moving around, it might be time to see if there is something more going on than typical teen behavior.

The Good News 

You can do a lot to reduce your child’s risk of diabetes. Pre-diabetes is completely manageable with the right food choices and just a little bit more exercise.

Here are 5 cool and easy ways to add more movement into your child’s routine: 

  1. Household Chores

    Sweep the porch, clean the garage, or rake the yard. 

  2. Sporty Gifts

    Roller blades, skateboards, bikes, etc. 

  3. Pet Care

    Set an allowance that depends on walking the dog for 30 minutes.

  4. Fitness Tracker

    Check out the best fitness trackers for toddlers to teens!

  5. Family Fun

    Connect exercise with family fun. Like a walk or bike around the neighborhood as a family. 

What tips do you have to get your kids to move more? 

Drop it in the comments below. Let’s learn from each other. 

Julia NordgrenComment