Diabetes doesn’t spare even the young!

Diabetes, which is known to be a lifestyle disease was earlier diagnosed among the age of 45 – 64 years of age, however, now, health experts are diagnosing this disease in teenagers (12 -14). According to the research, diabetes is more found among girls compared to boys. It may be due to physiological insulin resistance during puberty. Also, girls are more sensitive to the hormonal changes in puberty, especially progesterone. 

Until recently it was perceived that children develop only Type 1 Diabetes. However, with the change in lifestyle, there is an increasing incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in children as young as 12 years. 

The first step is to eradicate this disease in children and it can be done by educating them on adopting a healthy lifestyle. That includes:

  • Education of masses so that the symptoms are recognised early 
  • Giving access to people living with diabetes to diabetes education so that their condition can be managed adequately and the complications of later in life ‘tomorrow’ does not happen

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes (earlier known as Juvenile Diabetes) usually presents itself in childhood or adolescents, although it may occur in adults as well.  The cells that produce insulin in the pancreas are destroyed due to an autoimmune process and this lack of insulin leads to high blood sugars. 

There is a complex path that trigger the autoimmune process: a combination of genetic and environmental factors which include viral infections. During COVID there was a definite increase in the incidence of Type 1 Diabetes as the wave swept through the world infecting adults and children alike. 

Early recognition is imperative in Type 1 Diabetes as a delay can result in a life-threatening condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis: blood becomes acidic due to high ketones. 

Remember the 4 T’s for recognition of type 1 Diabetes: 

  1. Thirst : crave water all the time
  2. Toilet : excessive urination in fact some kids may start bedwetting
  3. Thinner
  4. Tired

Diagnosis requires just a finger prick check of a random blood glucose which then shows up as high.

Once diagnosed, children with Type 1 Diabetes will need insulin injections multiple times a day to keep their blood sugar in the normal range.  The child and family are supported by the diabetes multidisciplinary team to achieve this and enable them to carry on their normal activities: sports, schooling etc. 

Type 2 Diabetes: 

We are seeing an increasing number of Type 2 Diabetes in adolescents. There are some factors that put a child at increased risk of developing type 2 Diabetes such as family history and ethnicity but there are many other causative and contributory factors:

  • Overweight/ obesity:  The changing lifestyle has led to a new world problem of children being overweight. Excessive intake of calories, especially processed food and an unbalanced diet are the main causes.

Being overweight leads to insulin resistance forcing the pancreas to make more insulin with which it fails to cope at one point leading to an insulin mismatch 

  • Exercise:  Poor exercise is directly proportional to the body’s poorly using insulin. It is well established that acute exercise is associated with substantial improvement in insulin sensitivity. A single bout of moderate-intensity exercise increases glucose uptake by at least 40%.
  • Age:  Teenage years are when hormonal changes happen and contribute to their risk factors for type 2 diabetes. For example teenage girls with PCOS are more prone to develop Insulin resistance

Type 2 Diabetes is managed with lifestyle changes and in some cases, the child will need medications. 

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: 

  1. Exercise at least for 90 minutes a day: Running/ cycling, swimming, dancing. 
  2. Limit or stop consumption of processed food
  3. Eat a balanced diet 


Views expressed above are the author’s own.