Type 2 diabetes, once considered a disease of older people, is turning up more often than ever in the young and rising obesity rates among teens is why.

  • Some 154,000 people under the age of 20 now have diabetes in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • One in 523 people younger than 20 has the disorder, and in this group, some 79 percent are between the ages of 10 and 19.

"The reason for more diabetes in young people is both lifestyle changes and food supply changes that contribute to obesity," says Dale Hamilton, MD, of the Methodist Hospital in Houston. "Not only are kids exercising less since they arrive home from school and settle in at the computer, but they are eating more calories than ever before."

Young people are eating too much of the wrong foods, which puts them at risk for obesity, explains Spyros Mezitis, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "And when you have obesity, you have fat cells, and fat cells block insulin," he explains. He feels that the rising rates of obesity and diabetes in the young are becoming "an epidemic that we don't have a handle on."

The good news? Young people can get healthy by paying attention to diet and exercise.

"Even losing 5 or 10 pounds would reverse the Type 2 diabetes in many patients," Hamilton says.

Here are ideas for how to motivate your teen to eat better and start exercising.

1. Encourage 60 minutes of activity each day. Rather than computer games, suggest a walk with a friend, a bike ride, or getting involved in an after-school sport.

Be sure your child has a full evaluation before embarking on an exercise program, says Natasha Leibel, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. "Kids with Type 2 diabetes may be more likely to have high blood pressure than kids who don't have the disease," she says. "So get in touch with your doctor before a young person starts to exercise."

2. Best exercises? "You want a combination of aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises," Leibel says. "Running, riding a bike and walking fast enough to work up a sweat are all good, along with resistance training to strengthen muscles."

3. Trim those calories. Want to get a handle on how much you're consuming? Start reading food labels. Remember: just cutting out 100 to 200 calories a day can result in weight loss.

4. Shop for healthy snacks. Fill the fridge with cut-up raw vegetables and fruit. But don't encourage a drastically low-calorie diet for a teen, since this can lead to poor growth and development. Discuss your child's weight and eating habits with a dietitian or your doctor before putting your teen on a new meal plan.

5. Are you in charge of making school lunches? Try some easy lunch substitutes, such as small deli sandwiches made with lean turkey or beef and mustard or no-fat mayo on whole wheat bread, rather than giant heroes stuffed with ham and cheese. Offer nonfat milk rather than chocolate milk, and pack fresh fruit instead of cookies.

A home-packed lunch is often healthier and less costly than one you buy at a deli. Try packing a tuna sandwich for your teen, using low-fat mayo, and add some raw carrots and a piece of fruit to go with it.

6. If you visit a fast food restaurant with your teen, get into the habit of good meal hygiene by steering clear of "supersized" meals. Choose grilled over fried, and ask that the sauce be held off burgers. In a pizza place, order the thin crust rather than the deep-dish or stuffed crust pizza. And substitute a small salad with non-fat or low-fat dressing for a second slice of pizza.

7. If your teen arrives home ravenous, consider one of these snacks: small bowl of vegetable soup with a few crackers, a small tortilla with two slices of turkey or low-fat cheese, a handful of pretzels or crackers, a cup of veggies with low-fat salad dressing or a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with nonfat or low-fat milk.


Diabetes Rates Are Increasing Among Youth. National Institutes of Health NIH News. 13 November 2007.

Tips for Teens with Diabetes: Stay at a Healthy Weight. National Diabetes Education Program. 1 November 2007.