Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body is unable to properly regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels.

The majority of cases of Type 2 Diabetes begin with insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that processes sugar. With insulin resistance, the body is unable to use the insulin properly to break down sugar contained in foods or drinks. Initially, the body produces additional insulin, but over time it can’t keep up and blood glucose becomes elevated beyond levels that are normal, healthy, and safe.

Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes have traditionally affected adults who have a long history of poor eating and sedentary lifestyle choices. But in recent years, the problem has been growing in scope and has also been affecting people at increasingly younger ages.

The World's Youngest Type 2 Diabetes Patient

A case study presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm provided the details of a 3-year-old diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, making her one of the youngest people in the world with this condition to date. Dyan Hes, MD, Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City and Director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, says that although she was not personally involved in the case of this very young diabetes patient, she has read some of the literature. “This child was obese and fed a diet high in processed foods and sweets,” Hes explains, adding that the toddler’s obesity was the greatest risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Why More Kids Are at Risk

While this toddler’s case may be extreme, it’s also indicative of the growing trend of children at increasingly younger ages being affected by diabetes and related health problems. Some of the biggest risk factors for kids today include “a diet of processed food and refined sugars, increased screen time, decreased recess and gym in schools, and an overall lack of physical activities,” Hes says. “In the youngest children, sugary drinks, juices, and French fries have been the largest cause of obesity and increased diabetes risk. There’s also a greater risk to children born to obese parents, particularly if the mother is obese during pregnancy, and even greater risk if mom had gestational diabetes."

Signs to Watch For

Hes suggests parents be on the lookout for the warning signs of type 2 diabetes, which include excessive thirst and urination, as well as a distinctive rash called acanthosis nigricans. “This is a velvety dark rash that occurs around the neck and in the underarms and groin of overweight children and adults. It can also spread to other parts of the body in severe insulin resistance cases. Often parents mistake this for eczema or suntan. One clue is that it is very soft and it also develops under the neck or in non-sun-exposed areas."

Managing the Condition

For children with type 2 diabetes, there’s no formal cure, but lifestyle modifications may be able to help keep the condition well controlled.

“In children we use diet, exercise, and lifestyle to treat type 2 diabetes. Families need to learn how to count carbohydrates in their children’s diet and check blood glucose via finger sticks with a lancet. We also use medicines similar to adult medicines. The goal is not to end up on insulin, which is only given in injectable form and needs to be given several times a day,” Hes says.

Prevention Is Best

Of course the best way to treat diabetes is to head it off in the first place. “My advice to parents is that prevention is key,” Hes says. “Use the resources around you... the school nurse, the pediatrician, your library to learn about healthy nutrition from the day your baby is born. Breastfeed if you can, ideally for the first six months of your baby’s life.”

It’s also important to teach your child to make healthy nutritional choices. “Treats are fine once in a while, but it’s all about balance. You have to feed your children high-fiber, protein-rich diets.”

Finally, make an effort to plan family activities that will keep your little one moving regularly. “Keep your child active by partaking in family activities like walking in the park, riding scooters, bike riding, jumping rope, and sports,” Hes says. An added bonus is that your whole family will benefit from the effort.

Dyan Hes, MD, Medical Director, Gramercy Pediatrics, NYC, reviewed this article.


“Diabetes Basics: Type 2.” American Diabetes Association. Accessed online Oct. 11, 2015.

Hes, Dyan, MD. Medical Director, Gramercy Pediatrics, NYC, and Director, American Board of Obesity Medicine. gramercypediatrics.com. Email interview, Oct. 8, 2015.

Welch, Ashley. “Toddler among youngest ever diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.” CBS News, Sept. 17, 2015.