Children's Hospital Colorado

Type 2 Diabetes

What is type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes refers to a medical condition in which the body's blood glucose (sugar) levels are high. This occurs because the body resists the effects of insulin and doesn't produce enough insulin to maintain a normal blood glucose level.

Insulin is a hormone that our bodies need to convert sugar, starches and other food into the energy we need for daily life. The body needs insulin to allow glucose into its cells. Without it, glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Over time, high blood glucose levels can cause health problems.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

In children, the most significant cause of type 2 diabetes is a family history of the disease and being at an unhealthy weight.

There are also specific risk factors that put a child at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, including:

  • A poor diet with high fat and carbohydrate intake
  • High levels of fat in the blood
  • Low physical activity levels
  • Puberty (children almost never get type 2 diabetes before puberty starts)

Who gets type 2 diabetes?

People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, even during childhood. Type 2 diabetes generally occurs during adolescence due to the increased insulin resistance associated with puberty. Children who are obese and have a strong family history of type 2 diabetes or whose mothers had diabetes during their pregnancy are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

What's the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Both types of diabetes are chronic conditions that affect the way the body regulates blood sugar (glucose). Insulin is the key that allows glucose (the body's fuel) to enter its cells. For type 1 diabetes, kids don't produce insulin, so their bodies are missing the key they need.

Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes because their pancreas still makes insulin, but it can't produce enough insulin to overcome the body's insulin resistance. When it comes to type 2 diabetes in children, this key is broken; their bodies can't use insulin properly (a condition known as insulin resistance) or they can't produce enough insulin.

Another major difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes is that type 1 diabetes is not preventable, while type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by adhering to a healthy lifestyle.