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Julianna Celestin
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The Rise in Diabetes in Children

by Julianna Celestin

Diagnosed cases of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are surging among youth in the United States. Increases in diabetes are always troubling, especially in youth. Rising rates of diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, which is preventable, has the potential to create a cascade of poor health outcomes.


The National Diabetes Statistic Report 2020 states that roughly 210,000 children and teenagers under the age of 20 years in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers and doctors have pointed eagerly to the switch to virtual learning and shutdowns of after-school activities and school as environmental factors that likely increased the risk of diabetes among children. The 2020 Coronavirus lockdown resulted in children being removed from normal day-to-day routines. This invariably included traditionally attending school, playing sports, and other hobbies. Not only were children physically less active; however, they were confined to their homes and frequently consumed more time watching TV, playing video games, or with other electronic devices.

What is Diabetes?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes, often referred to as diabetes mellitus, is caused by the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin, which is produced by islet cells found in the pancreas. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels – providing energy to body cells and tissues. Without insulin, the body’s cells would starve, resulting in dehydration and the destruction of body tissue. There are two types of Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2

Type 1 Diabetes

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas does not produce insulin. Instead, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. People with Type 1 diabetes are insulin-dependent. Meaning they rely on insulin to stay alive.

Type 2 Diabetes

The most common form of diabetes is called Type 2 diabetes, or non-insulin dependent diabetes. People with Type 2 diabetes can produce some of their own insulin; however, it is not enough. Type 2 diabetes is typically associated with individuals who are overweight with a sedentary lifestyle.

How does Diabetes Affect Children?

According to Mayo Clinic, Type 1 and 2 diabetes in children is a chronic disease that affects the way your child's body processes sugar (glucose) for energy. Without appropriate treatment, the disorder causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream, which can lead to adverse long-term consequences. When youth under the age of 20 develop Type 2 diabetes, complications arise as a consequence at an accelerated pace. Compared to people who develop diabetes in adulthood, children are more likely to develop diabetes complications at an earlier age and are at a more substantial risk of premature death.

If a child does not receive treatment for Type 1 diabetes, there is a significant probability of them developing diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is commonly present in both type 1 diabetes mellitus and Type 2 diabetes mellitus in children and adolescents. Diabetic ketoacidosis instantly arises due to a distinct lack of adequate insulin in the body. Insulin stops the use of fat as a reliable energy source. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a severe and life-threatening condition that undoubtedly requires immediate treatment.

Risk Factors for Developing Diabetes in Children

According to the Mayo Clinic, a child gets screened for prediabetes or type 2 diabetes typically at the age of 10 or the start of puberty. However, risk factors that may set a child on the path to those conditions years before that include:

  • Having a family history.

  • Excessive weight

  • Diet

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Having high blood pressure

  • Having high cholesterol

Just because you have a risk factor for diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to develop it or that you will have it uncontrolled. It’s up to the child and their family to switch that risk around and implement healthy habits.

What are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Children and Teens

According to John Hopkins Children’s Center, many of the signs of type 2 diabetes are the same in children as they are in adults. These symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination

  • Frequent thirst

  • Blurry vision

  • Feeling very hungry even if you are eating well

  • Fatigue

Treatment & Prevention

Although Type 1 diabetes does not have a cure, there are steps to manage your diabetes and stay healthy. Diabetes is a complex condition, so its management involves several strategies. In addition, diabetes affects everyone differently, thus, individualized health plans are highly recommended. Talk to your child’s primary doctor for more information.

Blood sugar monitoring

Monitoring your blood sugar (glucose) is key to determining how well your current treatment plan is working.

Oral diabetes medication. Oral diabetes medications (taken by mouth) help manage blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes but still produce some insulin. Metformin is the most common.


Individuals with Type 1 diabetes need to inject synthetic insulin to live and manage diabetes. Some individuals with Type 2 diabetes also require insulin. 

Eating healthy foods

Meal planning and choosing a healthy diet is key in managing diabetes. Food significantly impacts your ability to manage diabetes. Offering your children foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps to reduce sugar levels. Also, eating at home more frequently instead of eating at restaurants or getting food to carry out from restaurants. Plus, try to replace high-calorie beverages with water.

Get more Physical Activity

According to Cleveland Clinic, physical activity increases insulin sensitivity and helps to reduce insulin resistance. Physical activity helps children control their weight, uses up sugar for energy, and makes the body use insulin more effectively.

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Julianna Celestin is an ambitious-driven graduate from Florida State University, where she has respectively obtained degrees in Family & Child Sciences and Public Health with a Minor in Child Development. She maintains academic plans to pursue a Master of Business Administration in Healthcare and later a Ph.D. in Public Health with a specific concentration in Health Systems Research. Julianna possesses an immense interest in adequately providing better healthcare while simultaneously equitably distributing adequate resources and high-quality care to those in fundamental need. She is passionately committed to progressively improving the social efficiency and quality of healthcare services that are being provided and not provided to those underserved, underrepresented, and vulnerable.

March 2023  page 5

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