Diabetes: The Vital Signs

Is your young child always feeling tired and constantly asking for a drink? Diabetes could be the culprit.

Types of Diabetes

  • Type 1 which was previously called juvenile diabetes, occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin (a hormone that carries glucose into the cells).
  • Type 2, once called adult-onset diabetes, the body either produces too little insulin, or a layer of fat around the cells prevents insulin doing its job. Glucose then builds up in the bloodstream.

Diabetes in Children

About 1 in 700 children in Australia have diabetes. The cause of Type 1 is unknown, but genetic factors and viruses or some other toxin may be involved. The incidence of Type 2 is rising as children become heavier and less active. Both types have a high rate of complications in the eyes, kidneys and cardiovascular system.


Type 1 diabetes must be treated with insulin injections, but inhaled insulin is a future possibility. For Type 2 diabetes, treatment is through changes in diet and physical activity. Both also important for Type 1.


Strict diets are no longer recommended for children with diabetes. They should follow the same healthy diet recommended for everyone. Basically the dietary aims are to:

  • consume nutrients and kilojoules for growth/activity, while maintaining normal weight.
  • reduce saturated and trans fats.
  • eat regular meals that include slowly-digested (low GI) carbohydrate foods such as wholegrain cereals and breads, pasta, legumes, fruit and low-fat milk and yoghurt.
  • keep sugar intake low
  • drink water and low-fat milk rather than sugary drinks (half a glass of fruit juice a day).

Regular exercise is also important for both types of diabetes as it helps control blood glucose levels.

Signs and early symptoms of diabetes:

  • Fatigue (due to glucose not reaching cells)
  • Thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Itchiness
  • Nausea, vomiting and dizziness

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