In 2009, more than 20,000 individuals under 20 years old were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. That’s probably lower than the actual number because some children or teenagers may not even know they have type 2 diabetes. Most of the new cases are in youth 10-19 years old.

Type 2 diabetes is still pretty rare in children under 10 years. As with adults, the rates of type 2 diabetes are higher in certain populations. African-Americans, Hispanic and Latinos, Asian Americans and American Indians are at higher risk for developing this disease.

What’s the sign?

The signs and symptoms of diabetes are the same in youth as they are in adults. Drinking and urinating more than usual and having low energy are a few of the signs that may signal diabetes. Usually, but not always, there is a strong family history; a close relative, parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent has diabetes—so that’s a clue.

"Teaching about proper nutrition and exercise in children can guide them in the right direction."

The youth could be overweight or obese and may have a dark, velvety line around his or her neck, underarms, etc. This discoloration is called “acanthosis nigricans” and is linked with “insulin resistance” and type 2 diabetes. If any of these items are present, it’s important to see the doctor for proper evaluation.

Hard consequences

There is good news and bad news for type 2 diabetes and youth. We’ll start with the bad news first. In youth, the outcomes are not good if early diabetes or diabetes isn’t immediately managed. It appears that diabetes is more serious in children than in adults. There are also less treatment options.

The good news is that bad habits in youth are not as deep rooted as they are in adults. Teaching about proper nutrition and exercise in children can guide them in the right direction. And often a child’s diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can help the entire family to get on the right track towards a healthy lifestyle.