Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or the body does not properly use the insulin it makes.

As a result, sugar (glucose) builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy. The body gets sugar from foods like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, milk and fruit. To use this sugar, the body needs insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to control the level of sugar in the blood.

Type 2 diabetes was once a condition that occurred only in adults. Today we see it more in teens and even in children. Most of these children are from ethnic groups at high risk for type 2 diabetes (African, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian and Aboriginal). In Canada 44% of children who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are of Aboriginal heritage.

Who is at risk?

Type 2 diabetes in children has increased around the world over the past 20 years.

Factors that increase a child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes include:

  • Being overweight or inactive
  • Being a member of an ethnic group at high risk for type 2 diabetes (African, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian and Aboriginal)
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being born to a mother who had diabetes during pregnancy
  • Having any of the following:
    • Dark, velvety patches of skin on the neck and under the arms (a skin condition known as acanthosis nigricans)
      Acanthosis nigricans
    • High levels of fat or cholesterol in the blood
    • High blood pressure
    • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (a condition in females that can include no menstrual periods, unusual hair growth and being overweight)
    • High levels of fatty deposits in the liver
    • Taking certain medications for mental health conditions

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Going to the bathroom more
  • Blurred vision
  • Yeast infections
  • Tiredness

However, many children with type 2 diabetes do not have any symptoms and are diagnosed only when screened for other health risks related to being overweight. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that children who are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes should be checked by their doctor every two years using a fasting blood sugar test.

Tips for prevention

A healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Set an example for your children by eating healthy and being physically active. Try these lifestyle changes:

  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks (pop, juice, iced tea, slushies)
  • Offer healthy snack choices, such as fresh fruits and cut-up veggies
  • Get moving: walk or bike whenever possible. Children should get 60 minutes of exercise daily.
    • Examples: running, playing soccer, bike riding, swimming, dance
  • Switch to lower-fat dairy products, such as 1% or skim milk
  • Reduce screen time (television, computers, etc.) to no more than 2 hours per day and replace it with active play time
  • Follow Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide and Canada’s Physical Activity Guides for Children and Youth.