Type 2 diabetes in children
Has your child recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? Or are you worried they’re at risk? We’ve got all you need to know. We also have a page on young adults with type 2 diabetes.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes in children and young adults is known to be a more aggressive form of the condition. If it's left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to permanent damage in the body due to the build-up of sugar in the blood - but it can be managed well. With the right specialist support, it's possible to live well and avoid complications.
What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children?
The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop more slowly than type 1 diabetes. A lot of people don’t get any symptoms, or don’t notice them. But you may notice your child displaying or experiencing some of the more obvious common symptoms below. It’s important to talk to your child’s GP if you notice any of these.
- Toilet – going for a wee more often, especially at night.
- Thirsty – being constantly thirsty and not being able to quench it.
- Tired – being incredibly tired and having no energy.
- Thinner – losing weight without trying to, or looking thinner than usual.
- Genital itching or thrush
- Cuts and wounds taking longer to heal
- Blurred vision
Learn more about the symptoms of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes risk factors
Factors such as ethnicity can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes but living with obesity and overweight is thought to be behind the rising number of children with type 2. If your child has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, or you’re worried they’re at risk of developing it, we’re here to help.
Simple changes such as keeping active and healthy eating can often make a big difference. A healthy, balanced diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and incorporates healthy choices from different food groups.
Some factors can increase your child’s risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Because the symptoms of type 2 diabetes are not always obvious, it’s really important to be aware of these risk factors. They can include:
- Living with obesity or overweight
- An unhealthy waist size
- Ethnicity. You're more at risk if you're of African Caribbean, Black African, or South Asian (Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) or Chinese descent
- Family history For example, if you have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- Medical history: such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure.
Will it go away?
Type 2 diabetes can’t be cured, but some people can go into remission. There’s lots of evidence to show that some adults with type 2 who live with overweight or obesity can go into remission by losing a significant amount of weight. But there is not much evidence to show that children and young people who develop the condition can also go into remission. The limited evidence about remission has mainly come from young people who have undergone bariatric surgery.
Type 2 diabetes remission is quite a new area, so more research is needed before we fully understand it in different groups. We don’t have enough evidence that remission is permanent. It needs to be maintained and in many cases, blood sugar levels can come back into the diabetes range, which is why it is so important that people continue with their diabetes appointments while in remission. Read about our research in this area.
Younger people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes complications as the condition is more aggressive compared to older adults. Complications include heart disease or damage to the kidneys eyes or nerves. These complications can come on more quickly in children and young adults than in older adults with type 2 diabetes.
The risk of developing complications can be reduced by getting support to manage blood sugar levels and trying to keep HbA1c in the target range. Blood pressure, cholesterol and weight are also important in reducing the risk of complications. Also, by attending appointments and checking in with your healthcare team about how to take care of your child’s diabetes can reduce the risk of developing complications.
Will they need medication?
If your child is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the usual treatment is metformin, and insulin is also commonly used. Some children over ten years might also have different types of medication prescribed called GLP-1 or SGLT-2 inhibitors if they meet certain criteria.
There is evidence to suggest that children with type 2 diabetes who receive care from specialist paediatric diabetes clinics get better support to manage their diabetes. Sadly, we know not everyone can access one. If you haven’t been referred, ask your GP if there’s one in your area.
Checking blood sugar levels
Your child’s healthcare team will provide information on how and when to check blood sugar levels, what levels to aim for, and how to manage hypos. If they are at risk of hypos
your child might also be eligible for a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or Flash glucose monitor. You can read more information here.
Looking after your emotional health
If you're caring for a child with diabetes, it can be very rewarding, but at times it might also feel overwhelming. It's ok if you feel upset, frightened, or even angry. It's important to make sure you look after yourself and find time to relax. Think about how you can make sure you get enough sleep, and look after your other relationships with your partner, friends or family.
Your child also may struggle with coming to terms with their diagnosis. If you’ve noticed their mental health is suffering, check out our Emotions and diabetes page for tips on managing stress.
Who should I tell?
If your child has type 2 diabetes, it's a good idea to tell your child’s school. They can help support your child to live well with diabetes by encouraging a healthy, balanced diet plus plenty of exercise.
If your child uses insulin, they may need support with this and it’s important the school are familiar with the signs of a hypo. Your child may also need to take time out of school to attend appointments so it’s important the school are aware of their type 2 diabetes and their individual needs.
Speak to your healthcare team about organising a diabetes education session with your child’s school so you and your child’s teachers feel confident about managing their condition.
Research has shown that there are several risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. These include ethnicity, family history, and weight.
Evidence suggests that lifestyle changes are easiest to stick to if the whole family gets involved. We’ve got lots of family-friendly recipes for you to try, and plenty of ideas for getting active with children.
For children with overweight or obesity, changes like these will help them manage their weight. If you’re worried about your child developing type 2 diabetes because they aren’t very active, they live with overweight or obesity, or have any other risk factors, speak to your GP about getting them support.
See guidelines on physical activity for children on the NHS website.
We know that when it comes to food, making healthy choices isn't always easy. We've got loads of information and guides to help you eat well. To get you started, have a look at our large selection of meal plans.
There is no such thing as a specific type 2 diabetes diet. What, and how much, you or your child should eat depends on things like how active you are, what you enjoy, and whether you are aiming to manage your weight. However, it’s important to remember that a healthy, balanced diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, dairy and includes healthy choices from different food groups.
Thinking about making changes to your family’s diet might seem overwhelming. If you’re looking for support we can help. Check out our information on eating well with diabetes. It’s available to download, or we can send a printed copy straight to your door. You can also ask for a referral from your GP to see a dietitian with your child.
If you're a young adult who's living with or who is at risk of type 2 diabetes, check out our type 2 diabetes and young adults page.