Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to or doesn’t produce enough insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas gland and allows sugar to enter the cells of the body to produce energy. The disease accounts for up to 90 per cent of adult diabetes cases in Australia but is rare in children and teenagers. It can lead to a range of short- and long-term health problems.

Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include:

  • lifestyle factors – the majority of cases occur in young people who are severely overweight and do not exercise enough
  • genetics – if other close members of the family have type 2 diabetes then your child is more likely to develop this condition
  • cultural background – type 2 diabetes is more common in people from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, Asian sub-continent and Chinese backgrounds.

Other forms of diabetes include type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes (occurs during pregnancy) and rare types that develop as a result of various genetic disorders.

Signs and symptoms

Type 2 diabetes develops over a long period of time and often there are no symptoms. However, in addition to being overweight, signs and symptoms may include:

  • dark skin in the armpit and back of the neck
  • tiredness
  • excessive thirst
  • passing more urine than normal.

What is the treatment?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious illness that can be managed through:

  • weight loss
  • regular exercise to help the insulin to work more effectively.
  • medication (metformin or insulin) to help lower the blood sugar level

Type 2 diabetes in the young is a serious condition associated with the early appearance of complications in the kidney and later the eye and circulatory system. However, unlike most other types of diabetes, the progression of type 2 diabetes can be reversed or even cured by weight loss to ensure the child’s weight sits within the normal range for their height. However, this can be difficult to achieve.

When to seek help

See your GP if your child has any symptoms.

In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and speak to a registered nurse.

Developed by Queensland Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of consumers and carers.

Resource ID: FS181. Reviewed:  November 2016.

Disclaimer: This information has been produced by healthcare professionals as a guideline only and is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your child’s doctor or healthcare professionals. Information is updated regularly, so please check you are referring to the most recent version. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

Last updated: October 2023