Children and diabetes

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Health Assured team

16 September 2019

There are currently an estimated 5 million people living with diabetes in the UK and Ireland. That translates to a diagnosis every 2 minutes.


Diabetes is a serious health disorder that prevents the normal breakdown and use of food by the body. If left untreated, the disorder can cause harm to the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and neuro­logical system.


There are multiple forms of diabetes but the two most common are known as type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both forms can occur at any age, but a child is more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of child diabetes - approximately 90% of young people with diabetes live with this form of the disease. The condition occurs when a child’s pancreas is unable to produce insulin.


Without insulin, sugar cannot travel from the blood into the cells, resulting in high blood sugar levels.


To manage the health condition, children living with type 1 diabetes have to get insulin into their bodies via regular injections or an insulin pump.


Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is less common in young children, but it can occur when the insulin in the pancreas does not work properly, or enough insulin isn’t being made. Without enough insulin, glucose can accumulate in the bloodstream.


Historically, type 2 diabetes has usually occurred in adults, in fact, it was formerly known as “adult-onset diabetes”. But due to the increasing number of obesity in children and young adults, diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in early life is becoming more common.


Signs and symptoms

Increased thirst and urination - Due to the build-up of excess sugar in the bloodstream, a child is likely to become thirsty more often and urinate more. This is also likely to lead to bed-wetting.


Weight loss - After losing the energy that sugar supplies to the body, muscle tissues and fat stores begin to shrink, thus resulting in weight loss. However, weight loss is more common in children with type 1 diabetes than in children with type 2 diabetes.


Fatigue - Diabetic children can become tired and lethargic more often due to the lack of sugar in their cells.


Blurred vision - A diabetic child may find it difficult to focus clearly on objects due to the body pulling fluid from the lenses of their eyes.


Can diabetes be prevented?

Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. No one knows the true cause of the condition, but experts believe that genes and genetics play a part in the cause.


Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes can be prevented - depending on the circumstances. Encouraging a healthy lifestyle and avoiding sedentary tasks are key in reducing the risk of preventing type 2 diabetes, suggestions include:


Get active - Make sure that the child stays active by taking part in physical activities such as playing sports, walking the dog and riding a bike. Avoiding sedentary tasks such as playing video games, and watching TV is also important.


Eat well - Encouraging your children to eat a balanced diet consisting of low-fat, nutrient-rich foods such as whole-grain cereals, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, can help prevent excessive weight gain.


If you would like more information on diabetes, or if you have any other wellbeing concerns, please call our free, 24-hour helpline on:

0800 030 5182

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