Diabetes and Overweight Children

Overweight adults are not the only ones at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This chronic disease can also occur in overweight children, especially when they reach puberty.

“During puberty, the body produces a range of hormones to physically transform a child into an adult. These hormones also raise blood glucose levels as they act against insulin, whose action is to reduce blood glucose,” says Associate Professor Dr Fabian Yap, Head and Senior Consultant, Endocrinology Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Other Factors that Put Overweight Children at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Similar to adults, the risk factors for type 2 diabetes in children include:
  • Sedentary behaviour
  • A family history of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high triglycerides
  • Overeating and excess body weight

Dr Yap explains, “Excess body fat is associated with higher levels of free fatty acids (FFA) in the circulation. These elevated levels of FFA can stimulate the liver to release more glucose and cause the pancreas to produce less insulin. To make matters worse, excess muscle fat reduces the muscle cells’ response to insulin.”

All these factors combined raise an overweight child’s risk of getting diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes in Children

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children are the same as for adults. These include:
  • Excessive thirst and passing of urine
  • Weight loss in spite of a good appetite

Yet, some children may be totally asymptomatic, adds Dr Yap.

Over time, if left untreated, diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in the retina, kidneys and nerves resulting in blindness, kidney failure and sensory loss. It can also damage the large blood vessels resulting in heart disease and loss of blood supply to the limbs.

Another worrisome aspect of childhood diabetes is that, as children will live much longer with the chronic disease, they have a higher risk of developing long-term complications too.

Click the link to learn how childhood diabetes can be treated and how to reduce the risk of childhood diabetes.

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