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, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous or South Asian). In Canada, 44% of children who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are of Indigenous heritage.
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, glucose (sugar) builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy.
Who is at risk?
Type 2 diabetes in children has increased around the world over the past 20 years.
Just as with adults, there are specific risk factors that increase a child’s chance for developing type 2 diabetes.
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are the same in children as they are in adults. However, many children with type 2 diabetes do not have any symptoms at all and are diagnosed only when they are being screened for other health risks related to being overweight. Diabetes Canada recommends that children who are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes should be checked by their doctor every two years using an A1C blood test and a fasting or random blood sugar test.
Managing type 2 diabetes in children
Parents often feel overwhelmed when their child is diagnosed with diabetes. Be assured that there are resources and support to help you learn and feel confident in assisting your child.
One of the most important things that parents can do is to set an example for children by also eating healthy and being physically active.The way you talk to your child about diabetes will have a big impact on how they perceive their diabetes and themselves. Being positive and supportive will help boost your child’s self-esteem.
Medication or insulin injections may be prescribed for your child. Whether or not your child is put on medication or insulin injections, healthy eating and physical activity are an important part of managing type 2 diabetes.
Speaking to your child about diabetes
Here are some recommended tips for discussing diabetes with your child:
- discuss how foods fit into a healthy lifestyle
- describe blood sugar levels as “in target,” “high,” or “low”
- talk to your child about other important things that are happening in their life such as school, sports and social events
- remember that diabetes is only one part of your child’s life
Try not to describe food as “bad” or “junk” and avoid describing blood sugar levels as “good” or “bad,”.
Get the support you need
Diabetes Canada is here to help provide information and support so that your child can live a healthy life. A positive and realistic attitude toward diabetes can help make it easier.
Your health-care team is there to help you too. Depending on the resources available in your community, your team may include a family doctor, diabetes educator (nurse and/or dietitian), endocrinologist, pharmacist, social worker, exercise physiologist, psychologist, foot-care specialist, and eye-care specialist.
Your team can answer your questions about how to manage diabetes and work with you to adjust food plans, activity and medications.
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