Childhood Diabetes: Reducing the Risks

What is diabetes?

Simply put, diabetes is a lifelong condition causing high blood sugar levels. There are two types of diabetes that can affect children, type one and type two.

Type 1: Often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes, children who suffer from this form of diabetes rely on insulin injections to control the condition. The body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin producing cells, putting the body’s organs at significant risk of harm.

Type 2: This form of diabetes means that the body does not produce enough insulin or in some cases, the body’s cells do not react as they should to insulin. This is the most common type of diabetes and is a progressive condition. Obesity is a key factor in the onset of diabetes so with childhood obesity on the rise, the condition is now becoming more prevalent in children.

Children are more commonly diagnosed with type one diabetes although type two diabetes is on the increase in children due to less active lifestyles and as mentioned previously, obesity. This guide looks at type two diabetes and how to help prevent the condition in children.


Parents and carers may be able to help prevent type two diabetes in children by promoting healthy diet and exercise. Small changes to lifestyle choices can have a huge impact, even small weight loss achievements can help to prevent the onset of diabetes in children and teenagers. Any adult who has had to lose weight will know how challenging it can be to find the dedication and drive to succeed. It is no different for children and in fact, for many who are struggling with obesity, they may also have other challenges that are making their weight loss or lifestyle choices even harder.

Some children may be facing bullying or teasing at school, this may make seeking comfort in food even more of an issue. If parents or other carer’s at home are not setting a healthy example when it comes to meal choices and exercise, the child will be learning by example and this again can make weight loss or lifestyle change even more challenging.

It is crucial to focus on the positives when addressing issues surrounding obesity and healthy choices. Children love praise and encouragement but will shy away from criticism or negative comments. With this in mind, it is easy to see why obesity in children is on the rise. A more targeted approach to healthy eating and exercise needs to be taken if we are to help our children and teenagers through their formative years with healthy diet and exercise choices. By getting the whole family involved, you will be able to set an example for your children by creating a fun, challenging and rewarding experience that should lay the foundations for healthier choices later in life.

Consider some of the following tips that are aimed at promoting healthy food and exercise choices for the whole family.

✔ Drinks – limit high sugar or fizzy drinks, check for sugar content and substitute the usual sugary quenchers with those offering no added sugar or better still, promote water as the main drink throughout the day. High sugar drinks provide huge number of ‘empty calories’ meaning that without even consuming food, children are increasing their calorie intake without the nutritional benefit

✔ Increase fruit and vegetable intake. If you find that the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables makes them less likely to make it onto your child’s dinner plate, consider tinned or canned fruit in water not syrup and vegetables of the same form, they are less expensive but still provide some of the nutritional benefit found in fresh fruit and vegetables.

✔ Limit access to sugary, high fat snack foods. Substitute the usual offenders by placing little bowls out in easy sight. Popcorn, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, raisins, grapes or other fruit make healthy alternatives to crisps, breads, spreads and sweets.

✔ Limit fast foods and if you do have them, opt for the healthier sides in place of stodgy high fat varieties. You may wish to include a side salad, grilled versus fried, low fat milk, diet drinks, light or no mayonnaise, kids sized portions for kids!

✔ Learn about balancing your family’s plates by including more fresh vegetables, less starchy foods and appropriate protein portions. Cut back on sweet puddings or offer alternative healthy choices.

Getting active, increasing exercise

It creeps in without even being noticed initially, but before you know it, your children are spending hours on end in front of TV’s, gaming devices, computers or mobile phones. Limit the amount of inactive time spent using these devices, get children involved in sports or other active pursuits after school and at weekends. If video gaming is a central part of life, then consider consoles that have active sporting games as an option. Get the whole family up and moving.

Alternatively, family walks, swimming sessions, hiking, rowing or any other activity that increases the heart rate and burns calories, should be a priority. It can be hard to motivate children to take up exercise, particularly if it is not a normal part of their current lifestyle. Involve them as much as possible, ask them to think up activities that the family can do together and take turns in leading a sporting activity or activity that gets everyone up and moving. It won’t be long before everyone is having a good time and working towards a healthier lifestyle.

Beyond prevention

While some children and teenagers can take steps that may be able to prevent or delay the onset of type two diabetes such as managing their weight through appropriate diet and lifestyle choices, there are some groups who are at higher risk than others. Children who have one or more family member affected by type two diabetes have an increased risk of developing the condition, equally there are some ethnic groups who are predisposed to an increased risk of developing type two diabetes, those who are of native American, African, Hispanic or Asian descent have an increased risk.

If you are concerned that your child is overweight, becoming increasingly overweight or already obese, they may be at risk of developing type two diabetes. Speak to your GP or other health care professional. A Dietitian may also provide useful tools and plans for addressing the issue, setting goals and how to achieve them.

Growing children need to get enough calories to meet their nutritional and developmental needs while preventing them from excessive weight gain that may mean they develop type two diabetes in childhood or soon thereafter.

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