How to tell if your child has type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is rising in children and young people. [Photo: Getty]
Type 2 diabetes is rising in children and young people. [Photo: Getty]

Type 2 diabetes has historically been associated with older, overweight adults, but new research has found this demographic is shifting due to a rise in child obesity.

Some 6,836 young people under 25 in the UK suffer from the disease, according to new figures from the National Diabetes Audit for 2016-2017. This figure is almost ten times higher than previous data from the National Paediatrics Diabetes Audit suggested.

While the bulk of these cases were in 20 to 24 year olds, it was found 207 children under the age of 14 (and 11 between five to nine) have been diagnosed with the disease, in addition to 1,246 15 to 19 years olds.

As type 2 diabetes is not a disease typically associated with children, it is difficult as a parent to know what to look for. We asked Dr. Di Cuffa from Your Doctor about what you need to know, including the key signs.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is due to insulin resistance, and is generally caused by weight gain and eating large amounts of refined carbohydrates, Dr. Di Cuffa explains.

It is also in your genes, so if one of your family members developed it, you are more at risk.

The disease can lead to serious complications if left untreated. These include retinopathy, which can lead to blindness if not monitored, kidney failure and neuropathy, a loss of sensation particularly in hands and feet. It might also cause vascular disease, which can lead to limb amputation.

Why is it on the rise in children?

The rise of child obesity is to blame for the increase in young adults with type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Di Cuffa.

He says: “The World Health Organisation (WHO) regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century.

“Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems and are also more likely to become obese adults. Figures for 2015 to 16, show that 19.8% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.3% were overweight.”

How do you know if your child is developing type 2 diabetes?

“Type 2 is rarer in young children than adults,” said Dr. Di Cuffa.

Some of the main symptoms to look out for include:

  1. Unexplained weight loss

  2. Hungry or excessive thirsty, even after meals

  3. Urinating excessively

  4. Fatigue

  5. Slow healing of cuts or sores

  6. Recurrent infections eg water infections

  7. Numbness or tingling in feet or hands

  8. Itchy skin all over

However, Dr. Di Cuffa warns the list is “not exhaustive” and some sufferers may not present any of these symptoms.

How can you prevent your child developing the disease?

In children, the biggest single cause is being overweight, explains Dr. Di Cuffa. However, the good news is type 2 diabetes can in some cases be reversed.

“Losing weight and exercising is shown to improve, and in some cases reverse, diabetes by making your insulin more sensitive again.”

For more information on type 2 diabetes, head to the NHS website.

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