Diabetes in Children and Adolescents

Approximately 1 in 4 children and adolescents has diabetes and this number appears to be increasing. Classically, type 1 diabetes has been the primary diabetes in children/adolescents; however, due to the growing epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes is becoming much more prevalent in both children and adolescents. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the β cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone in our body that helps to break down the carbohydrates we eat and assist us in using them for energy. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either produces too little insulin or our cells do not appropriately utilize the insulin (referred to as insulin resistance). In children/adolescents, type 2 diabetes is most prevalent in those who are overweight and physically inactive.

Medications for each type of diabetes may differ; however, the overall concept of treatment is very similar. Blood sugar should be frequently checked throughout the day (>3 times daily) to prevent future health complications associated with high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Since type 1 diabetics do no produce any insulin, insulin administration is required. Type 2 diabetics may use exclusively oral medications (depending upon age), insulin administration, or a combination of the two therapies, as determined by an Endocrinologist.

Regardless of the type of diabetes, a carbohydrate consistent diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products is recommended.

Carbohydrate-containing foods include:

  • grains
  • fruit
  • some dairy products (milk and yogurt)
  • certain vegetables (starchy ones like beans, peas, corn, potatoes)
  • many snack foods (pretzels, chips, popcorn)
  • sweets (desserts and sugar-containing beverages).

Typically, families are taught how to count carbohydrates through reading food labels and measuring food portions.

A serving of carbohydrates contain 15 grams of carbohydrates and specific portions differ depending upon the food item.

A carbohydrate consistent diet encourages a similar amount of carbohydrates to be consumed at each meal to prevent wide variations in blood sugars. Since children’s nutritional needs change as they grow, a Registered Dietitian can provide an individualized diet plan upon diagnosis to ensure adequate calories and protein will be provided to promote adequate growth.

By Shelley Carlson, MS, RD, LD


American Diabetes Association website. http://www.diabetes.org/?loc=logo. Accessed July 15, 2012.

American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2012;35: S11-S63

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