Type 2 Diabetes in children and teens

For many years, Type 2 Diabetes was called ‘adult-onset diabetes.’ Unfortunately, says Dr. Nisrine Al Ghazal, a specialist in Endocrinology and Diabetes at Mediclinic Dubai Mall & Al Sufouh, with a more sedentary lifestyle, developments in the food industry and many changes in our world, what was once a disease mainly in adults is now becoming more common in children.

Type 1 vs Type 2 Diabetes

Both types of diabetes are chronic diseases that affect the way your body regulates blood glucose (sugar). Glucose is the fuel that feeds your body’s cells, but to enter your cells it needs a key. “Insulin is that key”, says Dr. Nisrine.

Type 1 Diabetes means that your body is not producing enough insulin, whereas patients with Type 2 Diabetes don’t respond to insulin as well as they should, and in later stages don’t produce enough insulin.

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

  • Being overweight or obese – obesity numbers are annually increasing amongst children and adolescents 
  • High carbohydrate diet – regularly consuming sugary juices, fizzy drinks and candy
  • Sedentary lifestyle – less activity and more screen time
  • Genetic predisposition – even though Type 2 Diabetes is mainly caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits, genetics can put us at a higher risk

Until 2001, Type 2 Diabetes accounted for fewer than 3% of all newly diagnosed diabetes cases in adolescents. Studies from 2005 and 2007 show that Type 2 now comprises 45% of those diabetes cases. Between 2011 and 2012, about 23% of new diabetes diagnoses in children were Type 2 Diabetes, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control in the US). 

The graph below (from the American Diabetes Association) shows the cut-offs of blood glucose readings. 

Diabetes in children


These are the most common symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits and neck

Managing Diabetes in children & teens

Managing diabetes in children and teenagers is quite challenging because of the interplay between the hormones of puberty, personality development and societal pressures – all of which impact compliance and glucose control.

The progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes is faster in teenagers than in adults. Mediclinic suggests the following to its pre-diabetic/insulin resistant patients:

  • Target 60-90 minutes of physical activity daily
  • Spend less than 60 minutes of screen time (television, computer and video games)
  • Maintain a healthy, low carbohydrate diet with or without pharmacotherapy (the treatment of a disorder or disease with medication), which would be a shared decision between the doctor and patient.

It is vital to teach Type 2 Diabetic or pre-diabetic patients to lead a healthy active life to stabilise and in some cases reverse their insulin resistance.

Diabetes in children


Treatment can be through oral anti-diabetic pills (and more importantly should target weight management and the prevention of complications. The early diagnosis and management of Type 2 Diabetes can reverse diabetes.

In conclusion, teenage diabetes management is not confined to the clinic. It requires the involvement of governments and local communities’. These are some factors that could help in halting the catastrophic rise in adolescent insulin resistance:

  • Limiting the availability of sugary drinks and snacks
  • Providing healthy alternatives in venues frequented by children
  • Encouraging programmes that value and reward physical activity (and make it fun!)
  • Being aware of the importance of ‘clean eating.’

If you have concerns regarding your child and any of the symptoms mentioned here, you can make an appointment with diabetes specialist, Dr. Nisrine Al Ghazal at Mediclinic Dubai Mall & Al Sufouh.


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