Causes and Risk Factors of Diabetes in Children

The cause for diabetes is unknown. Heredity plays a role in development of the disease, especially in type 2 diabetes, but genes are not the only factor involved. Researchers are studying how other factors (e.g., environment, viruses) may contribute to diabetes in children, especially when combined with a family history of the condition, but these studies have not revealed any definite causes.

Some people think diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar, but this is not true. Eating excessive amounts of sugar may result in weight gain that increases the risk for developing diabetes, but eating sugar does not cause the disease.

Diabetes often runs in families. Type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to heredity than type 1. Parents, siblings, and children of people who have diabetes are at increased risk for developing the condition.

Children who are overweight or obese, children who do not exercise regularly, and children who have symptoms of insulin resistance (e.g., high insulin levels, low levels of HDL ["good"] cholesterol, high blood pressure [hypertension], excessive belly [abdominal] fat) are at higher risk for developing diabetes.

Children of Native American, Latino, African American, or Pacific Islander descent also are at increased risk for diabetes. Children over the age of 10 and adolescents, particularly those who are going through puberty, have a higher risk for diabetes due to fluctuating hormones and rapid growth that can affect blood sugar levels.

Most children with type 1 diabetes do not have a genetic predisposition to the disease. Researchers are trying to determine what factors are involved in creating the autoimmune process that occurs in type 1 diabetes.

Kids' Diabetes Risk

Many young adolescents in the United States may be at risk of developing type 2 (formerly known as adult onset) diabetes, according to research by a national diabetes prevention study group. The study of more than 1,700 predominantly minority eighth-graders at 12 schools in Southern California, Texas, and North Carolina found that half of the teenagers were overweight or nearly so, a major risk factor for diabetes. Blood tests showed that 41 percent had elevated blood sugar levels after fasting, and 36 percent had high levels of insulin—both warning signs that their bodies may be becoming resistant to insulin, which puts them at high risk of developing diabetes.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 23 Jul 2015