Studies released in the last few months have shown that diabetes is increasing among children, both in the United States and worldwide. What’s even more shocking is that Type 2 diabetes among children has dramatically increased. Until recently, only about 2% of diabetes diagnoses in children were for Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Now, some medical statistics suggest about 50% of the new cases of diabetes in children are Type 2.
Medical researchers are still working to find out the causes behind this recent epidemic. Type 2 diabetes can go undetected for years in some children, possibly because it was once so rare. However, studies have pointed to some patterns in child development they notice in Type 2 diabetes patients ages 10-19. They include:
–Insulin resistance: At onset, the body might recognize the increase in blood sugar and the need to control it by increasing insulin production. Over time, though, the body becomes insulin resistant. Endocrinologists are still trying to understand the reasons, but one may be due to the onset of puberty. As growth hormones increase, youth with a predisposition to diabetes show greater insulin resistance.
–Weight problems: About 85% of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in recent years are also overweight or obese.
–Skin problems: Many new child patients of Type 2 diabetes showed signs of acanthosis nigricans, when dark, thick skin develops around the patient’s neck.
–Women’s health: Young women with Type 2 diabetes tended to have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which is an endocrine system medical condition affecting ovulation among other things. Infrequent periods or amenorrhea may also be present, although this may be as a result of being overweight. Other medical problems associated with young women with Type 2 diabetes include vaginal yeast infection, increased acne and excess hair.
–Ketoacidosis: Some child patients of Type 2 diabetes face this complication in their blood. When insulin deficiency is inherent in the human body, the body instead burns fatty acids, building up the level of acid in the human blood and causing sickness.
–Cardiovascular complications: Children with Type 2 diabetes may exhibit abnormal cholesterol levels or high blood pressure. As with diabetes in adult patients, children with Type 2 have an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.
–Eye health: A symptom reported in youth with Type 2 includes blurred vision. Although this rarely affects Type 2 patients as children, in the long run, Type 2 diabetes has severe implications for eye problems. Chronic high blood sugar over the years can lead to bleeding of the eye, vision loss, or glaucoma.
–Other medical conditions: Hypertension is another disorder associated with Type 2
diabetes mellitus in kids. Other anatomical conditions include: glycosuria (expulsion of glucose through the urine), dislipidemia (lipid disorders), frequent infections, and slow healing of wounds and sores.
Implications in Medical Education
The alarming rate of Type 2 diabetes in children in the present day should induce increased education of controlling this medical condition, both in terms of patient education and healthcare educations of medical students and nursing students.
Since Metformin, the drug typically used to control Type 2 diabetes in adults, has not been shown to work well in child patients to accomplish glycemic control, pediatricians and other healthcare professionals need to promote exercise, and specific types of exercise, to diabetic children. Educators need to act as a model and promote healthier eating choices, so that the developing bodies do not have to work as hard at controlling blood sugar.
In medical schools and nursing schools, the increase in Type 2 diabetes among young people means that there needs to be a greater awareness of changes in endocrinology that may lead to early onset of Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, there needs to be more time devoted to educating the causes of Type 2 diabetes, including weight management and nutrition.
 “A Clinical Trial to Maintain Glycemic Control in Youth with Type 2 Diabetes.” New England Journal of Medicine.