The main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are obesity, age, family history and a sedentary lifestyle. There is no question that as we age, our risk of developing the disease increases. However, there has been a  significant increase recently in the number of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes due to obesity and inactivity. While the disease is still considerably less common in children and young adults than in older people, the trend is alarming–and reversible.


Between 2002 and 2005, the reported new cases of Type 2 diabetes among children below 10 years of age were 0.4 per 100,000. In the United States, about 11.3% of adults 20 years old and above have diabetes, while 26.9% of adults aged 65 years old and above suffer from the disease. Children aged 19 and below have a rate of 0.26%.


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According to some researchers, the incidence of Type 2 diabetes among American children has increased 20% since 2001. Not surprisingly, those children with a family history of diabetes are most at risk for the disease. But the rapid increase cannot be explained by family history alone; it is generally attributed to excessive weight and a sedentary lifestyle. According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17% of U.S. children and teens are obese. Also, a recent study conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle and reported in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that as many as 39,005 children ages 12 to 19 have Type 2 diabetes. And an astounding 2.7 million kids could be in danger of developing the disease.


Lack of exercise, too much time spent in front of the computer and television, and an abundance of fast food are the main factors that contribute to childhood obesity, which is a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes in children. In a study conducted by Ximena Urrutia-Rojas and John Menchaca of the American School Health Association, 20% of the 1076 children who participated were identified as at risk for Type 2 diabetes. When the relationships between gender, ethnicity, physical activity, and time spent watching TV/playing video games and risk for Type 2 diabetes were factored in, the data showed that females were 15% more likely to be at risk compared to males.


Analysis based on daily hours of active play showed no significant differences between those who reported 2 or more hours of active play compared to those who reported less than 2 hours. By contrast, significant differences were found between those who reported 2 or more hours of watching TV or playing video games per day compared to those who reported less than 2 hours. Children who reported watching TV or playing video games 2 or more hours per day were 73% more likely to be at risk of Type 2 diabetes. Children identified as at risk were referred to their primary care providers and were invited to participate in a counseling session regarding obesity and physical activity.


The trend, as I mentioned above, is reversible. We know that too much sedentary play and too little active play are major risk factors contributing to Type 2 diabetes in children. Too much junk food is another serious risk. Fortunately, all these all risk factors all well within parents’ power to change.