Diabetes and Your Child: Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

You’ve been told that your child has type 2 diabetes. This means his or her body has trouble using a sugar called glucose for energy. Diabetes is a lifelong condition. Left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems. But diabetes can be managed so your child can live a full, healthy life. Type 2 diabetes has not been common in children. But in recent years, more and more children are developing type 2 diabetes.

Outline of child's abdomen showing stomach, pancreas (behind stomach) and intestine.

How the body gets energy

When your child eats, his or her digestive system breaks down food. Some of this food is turned into glucose in the intestine. Glucose is also stored in and released by the liver. Glucose (also called blood sugar) gives energy to the body’s cells. It travels through the blood to reach the cells. But glucose needs the help of a hormone called insulin to enter cells. Insulin is made by an organ called the pancreas. Insulin is released into the blood, and travels to the cells just like glucose. When insulin reaches a cell, it acts like a key. It opens a “door” into the cell so glucose can enter. 

Closeup cross section of blood vessel near cells. Insulin enters bloodstream. Glucose enters bloodstream. Insulin binds to cell. Glucose enters cell and is used for energy.


Closeup cross section of blood vessel near cells showing Type 2 diabetes. Cell doesn't respond to insulin. Glucose can't enter cells and builds up in bloodstream.

When your child has type 2 diabetes

With type 2 diabetes, food is still broken down into glucose. And glucose still travels to the cells. But the pancreas may not make enough insulin for the amount of glucose in the blood. The liver may release too much glucose at once. And the body’s cells may not respond the right way to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. Because of this, the cells receive less glucose than they need. At first, the pancreas makes more insulin to try to keep up. But as time passes, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin to overcome resistance. When this happens, glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Too much glucose in the blood is called hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Without glucose, your child’s cells don’t get the energy they need. And over time, high blood sugar can cause other health problems.

What are the causes of type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes often runs in families. African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and Pacific Islander families are often affected. Your child may be more likely to develop diabetes if:

  • He or she spends more time sitting than being active.

  • He or she is overweight for his or her age and height.

  • A parent or sibling has diabetes.

  • The mother had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

When your child has type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells become starved for energy. Your child may feel or have:

  • Very strong thirst

  • Increased urination

  • Blurry vision

  • Tiredness during the day

  • Extreme hunger

  • Bedwetting or getting up at night to urinate

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Difficulty concentrating

Or, most commonly, your child may not feel any symptoms at all. But high blood sugar can still be causing problems.

How is type 2 diabetes diagnosed?

Simple blood tests can help the healthcare provider determine if your child has type 2 diabetes. These tests check for a high level of glucose in your child’s blood. Glucose tests may need to be repeated in order to confirm the diagnosis.

How is type 2 diabetes treated?

There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. But the good news is that the condition can be managed. Your child’s healthcare provider will work with you to create a treatment plan. Following the plan will help keep your child’s blood sugar in a healthy range. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly treated by:

  • Eating healthy meals

  • Avoiding sugary drinks

  • Being active

  • Losing weight

  • Taking medicine (if needed)

What are the long-term concerns?

People with a blood sugar level that is too high over many years can develop health problems. These problems can affect the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. But you CAN help delay or prevent these problems in your child. To do this, manage your child’s blood sugar as directed.


For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:

  • American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org

  • Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.org

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org

  • American Association of Diabetes Educators www.aadenet.org

  • American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists www.aace.com

  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov

NOTE: This sheet does not give all the information you need to care for your child with diabetes. Ask your child’s healthcare provider for more information.