Diabetes occurs when a child’s body can’t process sugar from food very well. Here’s what parents need to know about this disease.
1. There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is not as common as Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes usually shows up in children, but Type 2 diabetes is more likely to appear in adults than kids. If you have Type 1 diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin, a hormone that helps process sugar from food. If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body does not respond to insulin the way it should.
2. More kids are getting Type 2 diabetes. “Being overweight can lead to Type 2 diabetes in children,” says John Galgani, MD, a community pediatrician at Esse Health, board-certified pediatric endocrinologist and president-elect of the medical staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Kids who have a family history of diabetes are also at risk.”
3. You can prevent Type 2 diabetes. “Getting lots of exercise and physical activity helps keep kids from gaining too much weight and lowers their chances of getting Type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Galgani says. “Children should also eat a healthy diet. At least half their plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Avoid sugary sodas and fruit drinks.”
4. Both types can cause similar symptoms. Going to the bathroom a lot and drinking a lot of water are signs of both types of diabetes. Losing weight and suddenly having problems with wetting the bed are also common in children with diabetes.
5. Controlling diabetes is important for kids. “Both types of diabetes put kids at risk for serious problems that can take years to develop,” says Paul Hruz, MD, PhD, a Washington University pediatric endocrinologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Vision problems, eye disease, kidney problems, heart disease and amputations can affect kids when they get older. A child who is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at age 10 will have the disease longer than an adult diagnosed at age 30 or 40. She’ll also have more chances to get problems if the disease isn’t controlled.”
Whether kids have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels under control is important. A healthy diet and regular exercise are good for children with either type.
“Diabetes is also treated with medicine,” says Dr. Hruz. “All kids with Type 1 diabetes need medicine, but not all kids with Type 2 diabetes do. Depending on their family history and lifestyle, these kids may be able to manage with diet and exercise alone.”