Type 2 diabetes in kids is on the increase and it’s being fueled by the obesity epidemic

It’s a question no parent wants to ask. But as with so many things in life, knowledge really is power.

The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes used to be called ‘juvenile diabetes’ because it was most often diagnosed in children. It’s an auto-immune condition, unrelated to lifestyle or diet. If your child has Type 1 diabetes, you’ll know very quickly because they will get very sick.

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes:

  • Very hungry
  • Very thirsty
  • Needing to pee a lot, especially at night
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Exhaustion

ALSO SEE: Type 1 diabetes in children: what you need to know

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, develops slowly. Until recently, it was mostly seen in older people – one of the risk factors is being over 45-years-old. But it is being diagnosed in children more and more. This is largely because our kids aren’t as active as they used to be – one of the main risk factors is a lack of physical activity. Another is being overweight or obese, particularly around the tummy area, and having a family history of diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes in kids:

According to Mayo Clinic, type 2 diabetes in kids develop so gradually that there are often no noticeable symptoms. Often, it’s only diagnosed during a routine check-up.

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes:

  • Increased thirst and needing to go to the loo a lot more
  • If your child is tired all the time
  • If your child has blurry vision
  • Darkened areas of the skin – especially around the neck or in the armpits
  • Weight loss (however, this is less common in kids with type 2 diabetes than in children with type 1 diabetes).

ALSO SEE: Childhood obesity continues to rise – 13% of SA kids under the age of 5 are overweight

What you can do to prevent Type 2 diabetes

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Lose weight if necessary

Eating healthy means cutting out junk food, sweets and treats, juice and fizzy drinks. Also cut out refined carbs, which means white bread, white rice, pasta – all the white foods. Eat lots of green vegetables (half a plate with each meal), good quality protein and some wholegrain carbs. It might feel like a big adjustment, but your whole family will feel better if you start eating healthier.

ALSO SEE: Cheaper ways to feed your child healthy meals

Exercise doesn’t have to mean joining a gym. It can be as simple as a 30-minute walk, most days of the week. Or some stretching or yoga at home, or a game of soccer with the neighbourhood kids. It’s so important for kids to be physically active.

Losing weight is important if your child is overweight or obese, but that doesn’t mean putting them on a diet. If they’re active and eating healthy, drinking lots of water and staying away from junk food, weight loss will be a natural result.

If you’re not sure whether or not you’re at risk of Type 2 diabetes, check out this fun 1-minute diabetes risk test on

They also have all the information you need on how to reverse Type 2 diabetes, and advice and tips on how to manage diabetes if you’re living with it.

The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone in this! There is a whole community of Diabetic South Africans, all living their best lives.

More about the expert:

Bridget McNulty is a Type 1 diabetic and the co-founder of Sweet Life Diabetes Community, SA’s largest online diabetes community. Find out more about how to live well with diabetes at

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