diabetes in the younger population

What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘diabetes’? Sugar? Illness? You’re not far from the truth. A great aunt, dad, grand mum? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in recent times, diabetes has been found to affect children and teens below the age of 20. We will carefully evaluate this disease that has reared its ugly head in the younger population and the best way of managing it.   

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are different diseases, but they both affect the body’s use of insulin.

Type 1 diabetes

In children, it was previously called juvenile diabetes.

Simply put, it is a condition in which the immune system (responsible for protecting us against harmful foreign bodies), attacks the pancreas (organ responsible for regulating blood sugar), and destroys the cells that make insulin (hormone produced by the pancreas). I know, right? The immune system needs to get itself together!). Now without insulin, sugar cannot travel from the blood into the cells and high blood sugar levels can result.

In most cases, a child has to be exposed to something else- like a virus- to get type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes isn’t contagious, so kids and teens can’t catch it from another person or pass it along to friends or family members. Oh, and eating too much sugar doesn’t cause type 1 diabetes either.

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes in children

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Fruity smell of breath
  • Irritability
  • Hunger

Can Type 1 diabetes be prevented in children?

Sadly, it can’t be prevented but can be adequately managed. Its cause is presently unknown. Doctors can’t tell the categories of individuals susceptible to the disease, and scientists believe its cause is genetic.


  • Lifelong insulin use and blood sugar monitoring
  • Diet and exercise management to help keep blood sugar levels within the target range

Complications: If type 1 disease isn’t correctly diagnosed, it could lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)- high level of ketones in the body, where the body becomes acidic. DKA is the leading cause of mortality in children with type 1 diabetes.

The 4 Ts of Type 1 Diabetes

  • Toilet – Going to the toilet a lot, bed wetting by a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies
  • Thirsty – Being really thirsty and not being able to quench the thirst
  • Tired – Feeling more tired than usual
  • Thinner – losing weight or looking thinner than usual

Too many children are not diagnosed with type 1 diabetes until they are in DKA, hence ‘Diabetes UK’ is raising awareness of the four most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes, to make sure more children are diagnosed early.

Type 2 Diabetes

Here, the pancreas can still make insulin (yayy!) but the body doesn’t respond to it properly.

Once considered an adult-only condition, it may interest you to know that type 2 diabetes is fast becoming an increasing problem in children and adolescents worldwide. An estimated 12 out of every 100,000 American youths under the age of 20 are often diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, usually at an early age of 14.

In both cases, glucose can’t get into the cells normally, which causes a rise in blood sugar levels.  

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in children

  • Increased thirst
  • Urinating more often, especially at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Itching around the genitals, possibly with a yeast infection, most common in girls
  • Slow healing of cuts or wounds

Other signs of insulin resistance include

  • Dark velvety patches of skin, called acanthosis nigricans
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Can Type 2 Diabetes be prevented in children?

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can often put a child at risk for type 2 diabetes, hence, the need to work those muscles!

How to prevent kids from developing type 2 diabetes

  • Make sure kids eat a healthy diet, nutrient-rich, low fat foods such as whole-grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy products tend to prevent excessive weight gain.
  • Encourage lots of physical activity such as walking, jogging, and minimize sedentary activities such as watching TV, spending a lot of time in front of a computer system, and other activities that do not involve mobility.

In conclusion, efforts are needed to provide care for youth living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes and to reduce the risk for development of diabetes. It is up to us to create sensitization about diabetes.

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