Type 2 diabetes is often a silent threat yet this quiet menace can pose long-term health risks for children. Commonly a health problem for middle-aged people, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed with greater frequency in children.
“Recent studies provide striking evidence pointing to a link between this type of diabetes and obesity,” says Pennsylvania Medical Society member physician and endocrinologist Joseph H. Hines, MD.
About nine out of 10 of all people with diabetes are diagnosed with type 2, in which the body manufactures insulin but cannot use it effectively.
“Currently, 17 million American adults have type 2 diabetes and half are undiagnosed. And, we’re seeing the same phenomenon in the adolescent population,” says Dr. Hines.
Three years ago, Schuylkill County mother Kim Fidler noticed that 10-year-old Alex was going to the bathroom a lot and losing weight. She checked Alex’s levels, saw they were high, and made an appointment with her physician. Originally diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Alex has now been confirmed as having type 2.
Typical symptoms of diabetes can include:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Slow healing of wounds or sores
- Constant hunger
However, many children with type 2 diabetes may exhibit no symptoms, so it’s important for parents to monitor overweight children with one ore more risk factors of diabetes, including:
- Family History: 74 to 100 percent of adolescents diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have a family history of the disorder.
- Puberty: Typically, children with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed in mid- to late puberty, when the body increases its resistance to the action of insulin.
- Ethnicity: Certain racial groups are predisposed to the disease, including those of Native American, Hispanic, African American, and Asian descent.
Parents with concerns about their children’s weight or suspicions of diabetes in their children should make an appointment with their physician immediately.
According to Dr. Hines, early onset of this disease also can mean early onset of long-term health complications like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney failure, and lower extremity amputations.
“The implications of this trend are frightening,” says Dr. Hines. “Left unchecked, childhood type 2 diabetes could result in serious medical conditions, such as coronary disease, in a much younger population.”
Physicians typically prescribe lifestyle changes—improved diet and exercise habits—as the first course of treatment. At times, physicians complement this regimen with drug therapy.
As Alex Fidler is weaned from his insulin and his mother monitors his carbohydrates and sugars, his condition will continue to be controlled with other medication. As a result, he’s doing well, with no noticeable changes in his activity level.
“Physicians work with these young patients and their parents to improve the children’s diets and to increase their activity,” says Dr. Hines. “If those lifestyle changes are not incorporated, medication will not work.”