Childhood Diabetes: warning signs, diagnosis & treatment.

South African children are at high risk of developing Diabetes and associated health problems.

Childhood Diabetes.

Childhood Diabetes is a real threat, often overlooked until it’s too late.

South African children are at high risk of developing Diabetes and associated health problems. We often assume that children’s bodies can cope with high amounts of sugar because, if they’re active, they’ll burn it up.

Using the wrong fuel in your car can cause a full-on engine failure, so why would you feed your child the wrong fuel for his/her body? Your child is precious to you, and we understand that you would do anything to keep him/her healthy. That’s why we’ve included everything you need to know about childhood Diabetes in this article.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a health condition that is diagnosed when it’s confirmed that your body is unable to process glucose effectively, either due to auto-immune Type 1 Diabetes, or the more gradual lifestyle-related Type 2 Diabetes. Your body requires a hormone called insulin (produced by your pancreas) in order to break down sugar and absorb it into the cells for fuel to function. You can read our in-depth article about the general symptoms of Diabetes, or click here to view another about the process of getting tested, monitoring and managing Diabetes effectively.

What are the signs and symptoms of Diabetes?

Diabetes symptomatic presence and intensity may be different for everyone, but there are some common signs and symptoms to look out for. If you’re concerned about your child’s health, book an appointment to chat to your family doctor, paediatrician, or clinic team. Keeping an eye on your child’s health is an important part of parenting. Look out for these warning signs at all times:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores and wounds
  • Frequent infections

What Types of Diabetes affect children?

There are three main types of Diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. Children are affected by either Type 1 or Type 2. Type 1 Diabetes is a result of an auto-immune response through which the body destroys its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 2 Diabetes is known as a lifestyle condition, but is also linked to Depression and Anxiety, which are similarly reported as becoming more prevalent in children today.

How or why is Diabetes a threat to children?

Two of every 10 South African children, today, are considered overweight. Being overweight as a child makes you more susceptible to being overweight as an adult. But that’s not the only problem: being overweight can lead to further health complications and, in particular, lead to Type 2 Diabetes. Childhood obesity actually quadruples the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, either during childhood, or later on in life.

Is Diabetes a problem for South African children?

A recent Indigo Wellness Index officially ranked South Africa as the world’s unhealthiest country. Ten metrics were assessed:

  • Life expectancy
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood glucose
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Happiness
  • Inactivity
  • Government spending on healthcare
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol consumption

A health ratio was created, scoring 0 at the worst end and 1 scoring the best. With a score of only 0.28, the results speak volumes about the state of our nation’s health. As our rate of childhood obesity has doubled over recent years, we need to be concerned about the health ramifications for our children.

How to prevent the onset of childhood Diabetes:

In order to prevent the onset of childhood Diabetes, it’s important for parents and guardians to first understand the threat, the way that Diabetes works, and best practice for monitoring and managing it, as recommended by healthcare professionals.

Can you prevent Type 1 Diabetes in children?

Type 1 Diabetes can be hereditary or result from a genetic mutation within the body. There’s also the possibility of it appearing after your child is exposed to different strains of viruses during life. It’s not easy to fully prevent it, but it can be managed effectively by leading a healthy lifestyle and adhering to treatment.

Most youngsters are only diagnosed when adolescent. That doesn’t rule out the danger of this condition in younger children.

Can you prevent Type 2 Diabetes in children?

Yes. You can prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes for children. Following a healthy lifestyle as a family should be an evergreen value. Here are ways you can prevent your child from becoming a Diabetic:

  • Educate your child: talk about the importance of vitamins and minerals; build excitement and curiosity about good nutrition. Learn together and discuss how the body works when it’s given the nutrients it needs to function.
  • Lead by example: set rules, and set a good example, when it comes to eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Remember children will imitate you before they follow your instructions, because visual learning is easier for them to process, compared to verbal learning.
  • Moderate sugar intake: limit exposure to and intake of fizzy sugary drinks. Develop the habit of only drinking water with meals.
  • Play more: children are inherently curious and willing to learn new things through having fun and playing. Pick up a ball, jump around, clap, dance, and engage with your child in these ways to get them excited about physical activity.
  • Create a bedtime routine: a healthy bedtime routine involves brushing teeth and getting into bed on time.

Understand more about Diabetes and how to live a happy, healthy life as a Diabetic.

Leave your details below to get more lifestyle tips, updates on medical research, and other resources to help you and your family live a healthy happy life in the presence of Diabetes.

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Is your child at risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes?

Your child is at risk of becoming Diabetic if they present these symptoms:

  • Your child’s mother had Gestational Diabetes during pregnancy.
  • A low birth weight was recorded.
  • Your child is currently overweight.
  • There is too much time spent idle, and not being physically active.

Your family’s medical history can be also play a role in your child’s risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Can exercise be used to prevent Type 2 Diabetes in children?

Absolutely. Physical activity increases your child’s metabolic rate, improves blood circulation and encourages the growth and rejuvenation of muscle fibres in the body. Among the many health benefits of physical exercise, keeping Type 2 Diabetes at bay is right up there on the list.

How is Childhood Diabetes Diagnosed?

Diabetes can only be properly diagnosed by a medical professional. If you’re concerned about your child’s health in any way, book an appointment with your family doctor, paediatrician, or clinician, and ensure your child is fully checked and monitored for any potential health problems. Diabetes is most commonly diagnosed after a series of blood tests. Your doctor may also request a urine sample, to confirm the diagnosis and what Type of Diabetes your child has.

How to adjust nutrition for Diabetic children:

It’s critical to manage the intake of sugar and carbohydrates for your child, regardless of there being a Diabetes diagnosis. Because some people naturally have a sweet tooth, it may be easier to substitute sweet foods like swapping out fruit juice for raw fruit, and choosing carrots for a crunchy snack instead of bags of crisps. Your doctor, nurse or clinician will be able to assist you with more detailed information for your child’s nutritional needs.

What exercise is best for Diabetic children?

Between the ages of 5 and 17, children should be participating in physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day. Whether that’s walking, running, playing, or taking part in sport, it’s imperative that all children get enough exercise. Chat to your paediatrician, doctor, clinic team, and your child’s teachers, about any ideas you may have for increasing your child’s daily exercise routine.

Why is Diabetes harder to manage in children?

Think about your best memories from school, especially junior primary. It’s likely that your classmates’ birthdays were celebrated with cake and party packs, filled with sweet treats. A child’s curiosity almost always trumps his/her discipline, making it really tough to play by the rules all the time. If you have your own children now you’ll know that they need constant reminding in order to remember certain things.

It’s important to remember that it’s not your child’s fault for getting caught up in the excitement of a class birthday party. It’s possible to forget the rules, or to be coerced into breaking them by classmates who are not exposed to the same risks. One of our recent interviewees at a Diabetic support group opened up about the challenges of her four-year-old daughter’s diagnosis. She emphasised the importance of discipline for each lifestyle intervention, and how to take nothing for granted when going up against Type 1 Diabetes in particular.

What more can you do to help manage your child’s Diabetes?

Whether your child is Diabetic or not, it’s important to remember that one of his/her classmates might be. A little strategic planning never hurt anyone, so use this to your advantage. Speak openly with the school Principal, learn about the syllabus and subjects. Explore what physical and sedentary activity your child engages in. Converse with your child to find out what he/she enjoys and dislikes about school so you can help them navigate better.

Make party snacks with healthier alternatives. Many home industries offer delicious treats and are willing to substitute ingredients upon request. Balance out party pack items or learn your child’s class birthday calendar. This helps you accommodate for when sweets are expected to enter the classroom in bulk. Never miss an opportunity to have a conversation with your child, talk about their food choices, and how those affect their physical development. 

If your child’s school is missing a solid physical education routine, consider getting together with a group of parents or the school board to collectively come up with a weekend or after-school programme together. Without collective support, all students at the school continue to be exposed to more and more health risks, not just Diabetes.


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Bialo, SR. 2018. Type 1 Diabetes: What Is It?. Kids Health. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Canderel. 2015. Managing diabetes in children. Parent24. Press release. 7 September. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019]., 2018. Why kids need exercise. 12 March. Available at: [Accessed 11 August 2019].

Diabetes South Africa. 2019. What are special concerns for children and teens with diabetes?. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019]. 2017. Childhood obesity quadruples risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 25 April. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Makgabutlane, S. 2018. #WorldDiabetesDay: About 3.5m South African suffer from diabetes. Independent Online. 13 November. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Mayoclinic. 2019. Type 1 diabetes in children. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Mayoclinic. 2019. Type 2 diabetes in children. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Medtronic. 2016. My child has diabetes. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Millington, A. 2019. South Africa has just been ranked the unhealthiest country on earth. Business Insider. 19 March. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Nall, R. 2018. An overview of diabetes types and treatments. Medical News Today. 8 November. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Oberholzer, G. 2016. The latest tool in the fight against childhood diabetes – an artificial pancreas. 14 March. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Väistö, J, Haapala, EA, Viitasalo, A, Schnurr, TM, Kilpeläinen, TO, Karjalainen, P, Westgate, K, Lakka, H-M, Laaksonen, DE, Ekelund, U, Brage, S, and Lakka, TA. 2018. Vigorous exercise decreases type 2 diabetes and CVD risk in children. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Available at: [Accessed 11 August 2019].

Victoria State Government. 2019. Diabetes type 2. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Western Cape Government. 2017. Diabetes facts. 13 November. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Whiteman, H. 2019. How does diabetes affect children and teens?. Medical News Today. 11 March. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

Zietsman, M. n.d. Type 2 diabetes, previously unheard of in children, is rising at alarming rates. ChildMag. Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2019].

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