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Type 2 Diabetes in Kids: What are the Long-Term Effects?

separator Kids keep on gaining weight, and their rate of diabetes is increasing dramatically. It used to be that the only kind of diabetes found in children and teenagers was type 1, which is caused when the pancreas stops produces insulin. A good diet and regular exercise is important for people with type 1, but the healthiest lifestyle in the world won’t prevent it. Type 2, on the other hand, is closely linked to being overweight and not getting enough exercise. And it’s estimated that 300,000 teenagers in this country now have type 2 diabetes.

In 1999, 13 percent of children ages 6 to 11 were overweight. For kids in the 12 to 19 year-old category, 14 percent were overweight. This number has tripled in the past 20 years. There seems to be little doubt in the minds of experts that this increase in weight has a lot to do with the increase in type 2 diabetes.

Why kids and their parents need to be concerned
It’s disturbing to see young people get any disease. Diabetes is no different. It’s a serious condition. Successful diabetes management is all about controlling blood sugar now to avoid the serious complications later. This is true for anybody who has diabetes. But it’s especially important for kids, because they’ll have diabetes longer, which means there’s more time for complications to develop.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If someone who’s 60 gets diabetes, it could take several years or more for the complications to set in. But if someone who’s 16 gets diabetes and doesn’t control it well, complications can start in early youth.

Too much sugar in the blood can damage parts of your body. Here are some of the body functions that diabetes can affect, and how that would have an impact on your life:

Eyesight: Sugar in the blood can damage the eye’s retina (the lining at the back of the eye), the vitreous (a jelly-like fluid that fills the back of the eye), the lens (which focuses light) and the optic nerve (the main nerve to the brain). Controlling your blood sugar is extremely important to the health of your eyes. You also need to go to the eye doctor on a very regular basis to make sure you catch eye disease in its early stages. Catching it early is the key to preventing serious damage to your vision and even blindness.

Kidneys: You don’t think much about your kidneys until they stop working well. Kidney damage happens slowly, and you don’t feel different until the kidneys are hardly working at all. Then you may feel sick to your stomach and tired all the time. Your skin may turn yellow. You may get puffy, because your kidneys can’t remove fluid from your body.

If the kidneys fail, then kidney dialysis becomes necessary. There are two kinds of dialysis. For one type, hemodialysis, you go to a clinic three or four times a week. Your blood goes from a tube in your arm into a machine that cleans out waste products and extra fluid. The machine then cycles the clean blood back into your body.

The other kind of dialysis, peritoneal, is one you can learn to do at home. You fill your belly with a special fluid, which removes waste products and extra water from your blood. Then you drain the fluid from your belly, and throw the fluid away.

Sometimes, people who have kidney failure can get a kidney transplant. There are long waiting lists for healthy kidneys though, and it’s not always easy to find one that’s right for your system.

Nervous system: Your nervous system pretty much affects your whole body. Nerve damage due to high blood sugar can cause numbness in your feet, arms, hands and legs. Or you can feel tingling and shooting pain. Other types of nerve damage can affect the way you digest your food, causing stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Sometimes nerve damage can affect your sexual organs, making sexual activity difficult or less pleasurable. Nerve damage at its worst can create a need to amputate, or cut off, toes, feet, legs and other affected areas. 

Diabetes also puts you at higher risk for problems with your heart, your teeth, your skin and your feet. 

What families can do for kids with type 2
Teenagers who find out they have diabetes need a lot of support from their parents and from their healthcare providers. Parents need to learn everything they can about diabetes. That means getting a lot of information from diabetes educators, nurse practitioners, doctors or dietitians.

Controlling blood sugar is the key to doing your best to prevent all the diabetes complications. This means exercising every day, eating the right food in the right amounts, not smoking, testing blood sugar frequently and taking all the medications you need to take to keep the blood sugar numbers where they should be. You can’t learn how to do all of this on your own.

Get advice about the best way to encourage a child to have healthy eating habits. Learn how the whole family needs to eat now, because even if just one child in the family has a problem with weight, it’s an issue for the whole family. Parents who change the family’s eating habits will be doing everybody a favor, not just the overweight child.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders; The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.
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