Smiling teen patient According to the CDC, 1 in 5 adolescents and 1 in 4 young adults are living with prediabetes. Parents should be concerned because children with this condition are at a greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, which has serious, long-term health consequences. The good news is that changes in diet and lifestyle can improve a child’s blood sugar levels and overall health, as well as prevent or delay the development of Type 2 diabetes.

To learn more about diabetes, we spoke with Maureen Dever, MSN, CRNP, CDE, PPCNP-BC, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in the Diabetes Center at CHOP.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The condition can gradually develop into Type 2 diabetes if left untreated.

What are the signs and symptoms of prediabetes?

Prediabetes typically has no symptoms. Some patients may experience a darkening of the skin in skin creases, which can be a sign of insulin resistance or high insulin levels, and this may be seen with prediabetes.

“You may notice a darkening and or thickening of the skin on your neck, armpits, or other skin creases. This is a sign of high insulin levels and may be seen with prediabetes. If you notice this dark pigment on your child or teen, discuss it with your healthcare provider,” explains Nurse Practitioner Dever.

Typically, patients don’t experience symptoms until they have developed Type 2 Diabetes.

What are the risk factors for developing prediabetes?

Children and young adults who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk for developing prediabetes. If a child’s mother has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, both the child and the mother are at a great risk for developing prediabetes.

Other risk factors include the following:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Weight gain
  • Family members with Type 2 diabetes
  • Some medications can make one prone to insulin resistance and higher blood sugars

How can you improve or prevent prediabetes?

A healthy diet and regular exercise will improve your child’s health over time and help them manage or reverse their prediabetes. Lifestyle changes are not always easy to make. A strong network of family and friends, in your school and community, can help support your child on their journey. Choices like avoiding sugary drinks, selecting fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods, and being physically active every day can help your child manage their weight and improve their blood sugar levels. Limiting screen time in favor of getting outside will also contribute to improving overall physical and mental health.

What can parents do to support a child with prediabetes?

Parents can support their child by choosing healthy foods to eat as a family, providing appropriate portions at mealtimes, and either exercising with their child or helping them find activities they enjoy doing. Sign your child up for a sport or dance lessons. Find recreational activities you can do outside, away from computer games or the television.

“Your child may need support to stay on track with diet and exercise changes. Keeping a positive attitude towards a healthy diet and exercise is important to build healthy habits in your child. A healthy diet and exercise can also benefit the other family members, so your child will not feel alone if all family members are eating healthy and exercising daily,” explains NP Dever.

When should you see a doctor

If you’re concerned that your child may have prediabetes, talk to your pediatrician or primary care physician about screening them for the condition.

If your child is experiencing symptoms of excessive thirst and urination, fatigue, blurry vision, weight loss, or a decreased ability to heal or fight infections, they may have developed Type 2 Diabetes so please contact your doctor right away.

More Information and Resources

1 in 5 adolescents and 1 in 4 young adults now living with prediabetes

Tips for Parents–Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight

Contributed by: Maureen Dever, MSN, CRNP, CDCES, PPCNP-BC

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