As type 2 diabetes washes across the globe like a wave, kids are being swept up in the surf. Type 2 diabetes, until the past few decades, was primarily an adult disease, but is now a more common diagnosis in the under 18 crowd.

Dr. Kaufman in the Clinical Diabetes Journals states that “up to 15–20% of America’s teens 12–18 years of age are overweight.” That is an astounding 5 million children.

Numbers remain stronger for a type 1 diagnosis in children, but many kids are in the fuzzy “pre-diabetes” state as well, close to the tipping point of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Why are Kids Getting Type 2 Diabetes?

It turns out being overweight is the most significant identifiable risk factor. But, type 2 diabetes isn’t just a lifestyle disease, rather it’s a combination of complex factors that create a perfect storm for the disease to develop and persist.

According to The SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study, the highest prevalence of type 2 diabetes is found in Native American and African American youth, which is an unfortunate and disproportionate diagnosis rate soaring amongst certain racial/ethnic groups.

Type 2 diabetes is a complicated disease and the younger the diagnosis, the more likely complications of the disease will strike during a lifetime. Dr. Angela Lennon, a pediatric endocrinologist from the University of Kansas, told Healthline that she “sees obese children 12 to 14 years old with kidney problems, heart problems, and high blood pressure.” This is certainly no laughing matter.

Fewer than 10% of kids with type 2 diabetes are treated with simple solutions like exercise and diet, but their blood sugars also demand the addition of pharmaceutical interventions.

Skin Pigmentation Changes

It turns out that one of the most highly visible signs of insulin resistance is a thickening and darkening of the skin present on the neck and other skin folds. This condition is called acanthosis nigricans and is present in 60–90% of kids falling into the pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes category.
If you see these physical changes on your child’s skin, be sure to bring it to the attention of his or her pediatrician.

Prevention Programs to Decrease Risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 5,000 youth are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes annually.

Programs such as Fit Kids in Northern Arizona are focusing their efforts on decreasing disease though education programs and exercise promotion at school, in their communities and at home.
The fact is, simple lifestyle changes can have large impacts over the short and long haul.

Here is what you can do to help your child avoid pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes:
Identify symptoms of diabetes: frequent urination, blurry vision, lack of energy, and increased thirst.
Seek guidance from a health care provider.
Make lifestyle changes for the entire family.
Set realistic and attainable health goals — it’s not too late.

To learn more about children and type 2 diabetes:

Type 2 Diabetes in Kids Proves Deadly
Fighting Off Prediabetes For You And Your Children
Risk Of Diabetes Rising Among Americans