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The Link Between Childhood Obesity and Diabetes

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Children being overweight or increased adiposity may be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes in their later life. Read on to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nagaraj

Published At November 21, 2022
Reviewed AtJune 21, 2023


Juvenile diabetes or type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder. It affects the cells of the pancreas, where the insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed. Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in children and young adults, significantly in obese individuals. It was Libman et al. who first identified that increased body mass index (BMI) contributes to type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is highly susceptible in children with obesity along with genetic predisposition. Obesity also increases the risk of micro and macrovascular complications. This article aims at type 1 diabetes and its association with childhood adiposity.

What Is Type1 Diabetes?

Type 1 is an auto-immune condition where the pancreas does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. It regulates blood glucose levels. Soon after taking food, the carbohydrates in the diet are broken down into simpler sugar molecules (glucose) that enter the bloodstream. This blood glucose serves as a source of energy for the body. The blood glucose sends signals to the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is the key receptor that utilizes blood glucose and allows them to enter the muscles, fats, and liver. Here the glucose is either used up for energy or stored for later use in the form of adenosine triphosphate molecules (ATP). When the blood enters the cells, the blood glucose level gets reduced. In the case of diabetes, insulin is insufficient, so the blood glucose remains unutilized with elevated levels in the blood. Type1 diabetes is also known as “juvenile diabetes.” insulin dependent” and “auto immune diabetes.”

What Is the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

  • Type 1 Diabetes: Due to autoimmunity, the pancreas does not produce insulin.

  • Type 2 Diabetes: Here, the body secretes its insulin but in less amount, or the body does utilize them properly.

What Is the Incidence of This Condition?

  • Due to lifestyle changes and food habits, type 1 diabetes is associated with obesity, and it is becoming more common these days.

  • Type 1 diabetes has become an alarming chronic childhood disorder.

  • It is typically diagnosed in children between four to six years of age or during early puberty (10 to 14 years).

  • It is most often seen in children with a family history of type 1 diabetes and prolonged obesity.

Most people are familiar with the terms ”diabetes” and “obesity,” but do not know much about the term “Diabesity.” The term was first described by an endocrinologist Mr.Jay Waddadar. It means that your child is obese and has diabetes. This condition greatly increases the risk of heart disease. It is also called a silent killer; when not in control, it may damage the entire body leading to death. However, it can be prevented by losing weight. Weight loss or burning extra calories decreases the chance of developing type 1 diabetes, especially in children.

How Does Obesity Cause Type1 Diabetes in Children?

Normally, the excess glucose in the bloodstream will be utilized by the cells for energy or gets stored for later use. If your child is obese, then the cells resist the insulin, so they cannot uptake the glucose into them. The liver serves as a storage form of energy. But in obese children, the liver is filled up with fat; hence there is no space for the glucose to get accommodated. So this unutilized glucose remains in the bloodstream. This alarms the pancreas to secrete more and more insulin causing pancreatic overload. Eventually, it gets worn out and produces either less insulin or stops its secretion. And also, the cells will not be able to take up the glucose due to the accumulation of fat or adipocytes.

Will Every Obese Child Develop Diabetes?

The answer is “No". Not everyone with obesity or increased body mass index develops type1 diabetes. However, obese individuals are six times more prone than children with a healthy weight. In addition, there are a few factors included. They are:

  • Family History: If anyone in the family has type 1 diabetes, then the child is likely to acquire this condition.

  • Diet: Some children prefer eating a lot of junk and processed foods, soft drinks, and carbonated beverages. These foods can greatly affect the child’s health and cause unnecessary weight gain.

  • Lack of Physical Activity: Children should be encouraged and engaged in some sort of outdoor activity, either playing, running, etc. Physical inactiveness results in the accumulation of fat in the body leading to obesity.

  • Stress: Sometimes, the stress in children can also contribute to type 1 diabetes in children.

  • Gut Health: A diet that contains high-fat content, salt, and processed carbohydrates alters the bacterial microflora of the intestines. This alteration may sometimes lead to autoimmunity-destroying pancreatic cells.

What Are the Symptoms Seen in Your Child With Diabetes?

The symptoms are usually mild and later aggravate into worse conditions.

  • Excessive thirst (polydipsia) and hunger (polyphagia).

  • Increased frequency of urination (polyuria). Most often, the parents may notice full diapers and bedwetting of their child.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Delayed wound healing.

Is This Condition Preventable?

Since type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder, it cannot be prevented. However, there are a few ways to prevent obesity in the child.

  • Encourage your child to have enough physical exercise. Try to engage them in outdoor playing, running, etc., which results in the burning of fat cells deposited in the body. Children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity for moderate weight loss.

  • Maintain a healthy diet for your child. Avoid processed and junk foods.

  • Always prefer breast milk for your child. Studies suggest that children who are breastfed are less likely to gain weight than formula-fed babies.

  • Discourage your child from spending time on televisions or mobiles.

  • Teach the children to eat only if they are hungry.

  • Make it a practice to drink water rather than soft beverages.

  • It is recommended to provide five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.


Several research works have been conducted to analyze the relationship between obesity and type1 diabetes. It has been concluded that an unhealthy diet and weight gain have drastically increased the risk of type 1 diabetes in children. Type 1 diabetes is not easy to manage, even under the best medical circumstances. The physicians play a vital role in explaining to the parents about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet. This can reduce the chance of type 1 diabetes in their children. Obesity may be life-threatening as it causes insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, and other cardiac complications. As parents, they have to take care of their child’s health and teach them a healthy lifestyle and prevent obesity and other complications.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Does Childhood Obesity Lead To Type 2 Diabetes?

Children who are overweight and have excessive belly fat develop insulin resistance. Insulin hormone helps to maintain normal blood sugar levels. In insulin resistance (insulin does not function), blood sugar levels are increased leading to the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus.


What Is the Relationship Between Obesity and Diabetes?

Obesity favors the easy development of diabetes in all age groups. In obesity, the normal functioning of fatty acids, hormones, and other metabolic substances is affected causing impairment in insulin production. Defective insulin production along with its abnormal functioning progress into diabetes.


What Type of Diabetes Is Caused by Childhood Obesity?

Obesity along with a sedentary lifestyle predominantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes mainly occurs due to an autoimmune reaction that causes the destruction of insulin-producing cells resulting in insulin deficiency.


What Are the Major Negative Effects of Childhood Obesity?

Obesity in children has an increased risk of developing health disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, and joint problems. They are at high risk of developing anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.


What Is the Role of Parents in Childhood Obesity?

Though childhood obesity occurs due to various reasons, parents of obese children are often considered responsible for obesity-related problems. It is not accurate to blame them for childhood obesity but they should take steps in overcoming the challenges. intervention strategies monitor the child’s dietary habits, duration of physical activity, the accessibility to unwanted foods, and provide moral support.


At What Age Does Diabetes Show Signs and Symptoms?

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes show similar types of symptoms but the duration of occurrence varies. Type 1 symptoms occur suddenly in children over a short course of a few weeks or months. Whereas, type 2 symptoms develop gradually and appear within a few years.


What Age Do Children Get Diabetes?

Children develop both Type 1 as well as Type 2 diabetes commonly around 13 to 14 years of age but  Type 1 also called juvenile diabetes occur at a much earlier age. The term juvenile diabetes does not refer only to children, rather it represents another form of diabetes that occurs in all age groups due to autoimmune dysfunction.


What Are the Three Most Common Signs in a Child With Undetected Diabetes?

The three most common signs of undetected diabetes are increased thirst, increased hunger, and frequent urination. These symptoms occur when blood sugar levels are too high.


Is Childhood Obesity Considered a Disability?

Since the term disability encompasses wider inclusion criteria involving both physical as well as mental conditions, obesity is not medically considered a disability. However, problems associated with obesity are complex and require an immediate and firm call for action to help change the social and health disadvantages faced by obese children.


Does Type 1 Diabetes Lead To Serious Illness?

Type 1 diabetes is caused due an autoimmune reaction (the body is attacked by its own defense cells by mistake) that destroys insulin-producing cells. Due to this, there is no insulin in the body to reduce sugar levels. This leads to serious health problems such as diabetic ketoacidosis, heart disease, kidney disease, and visual impairment.
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Dr. Nagaraj
Dr. Nagaraj



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