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7 Things to Know About the Growing Prevalence of Diabetes in Young Children

During National Diabetes Awareness month it is important to know risk factors that can lead to the growing prevalence of diabetes in young children. These easy swaps are sure to help children (and adults) stay on track!

Sugar-sweetened Beverages

What are they? Regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, among others. Sugar-sweetened beverages have little to no nutrients and are high in calories. Frequent consumption of these types of beverages do not cause diabetes but increase our calorie intake. With the increase in calories and weight, there is an increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Instead, let’s choose water more often (flavored with lime, lemon, or any fruit you like!) or a plain sparkling water with a splash of 100% fruit juice.

Physical Inactivity

When we are moving our bodies, this can help with maintaining a healthy weight. It is recommended that children aged 6 and older get 60 minutes of physical activity a day! This could mean going for a walk, playing at recess, or going to the playground and can be split up throughout the day. More information on incorporating physical activity into your children's lives can be found here.

Screen time / Distracted Eating

There is a direct link between screen time and obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours/day of screen time. This doesn’t mean they have the hit the 2-hour mark, it can be less, even 30 minutes can be good enough. When we are spending more time on our screens, we are less likely to be staying active. Distracted eating is when we are watching TV or playing a game while eating dinner, which results in not paying attention to how much we are eating. These combined can have negative effects on our health.

Ultra-Processed Foods

Processed foods are when food is changed from its natural state. For example, an apple is picked, washed, sliced, and packaged. Now it is considered processed, but it actually still a healthy food. Ultra-processed foods add things like fat, sugar and salt, along with artificial dyes and preservatives. Let’s take that same apple and if that apple was chopped and mixed with sugar and fat, then baked into an apple pie, that would be ultra-processed. Typically, we can find these items on the inside aisles of the grocery store, where the outer aisles contain whole foods. A study found here, showed that with eating an increased amount of ultra-processed foods, there was a 33% higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Inadequate Fruit & Vegetable Intake

Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that help our bodies. Did you know that lack of fruit and vegetable intake leads to growing prevalence of chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes? When we aren’t consuming enough of these foods, we can be at risk for chronic illnesses and deficiencies. The recommendation is 4-5 servings of both fruits and vegetables a day. For children between ages 2 to 8, it is recommended to have 1-2 cups of fruit and 1-2.5 cups of vegetables per day. Refer here for fruit servings information and here for vegetable servings information. When possible, eat fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and accessible - local farmers market, food banks, etc. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables still provide nutritional benefits.


When we are tired from not sleeping enough, it can cause us to eat more and have less energy to be physically active. When kids are tired, they are not focused on learning in school. Lack of sleep is link to increased diabetes risk. According to one study, participants were 40% more likely than those with 7 to 8 hours of sleep to develop diabetes. Depending on age, there is a certain number of hours recommended for your child. Find more info and sleep and age recommendations here.

Good Model Behavior

Children are influenced by the things their parents do and the way they act. Studies show that children are much more likely to enjoy food if they are encouraged to eat healthy foods by their parents.

Blog Medically reviewed by Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, NASM-CPT, Women's Health Dietitian, Wellness Practitioner, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, Women's Fitness Specialist Certified Personal Trainer, & Founder - 360Girls&Women®

Sue-Ellen Anderson Haynes, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, NASM-CPT, founder of 360Girls&Women® Nationally recognized nutrition and food expert and leading global expert in Gestational Diabetes. "What makes us different?" 360 represents completion. At 360 G+W we provide personalized insight to help girls and women dramatically improve their wellbeing. Our mission is to provide evidence-based information and services to help maximize a woman's complete health through the complete life-cycle - preventing, managing, and reversing certain reproductive and chronic illnesses- using nutrition as the foundation along with other innovative holistic practices. Read more.


Get the facts: Sugar-sweetened beverages and consumption. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 11, 2022.

How screen time can impact sleep & childhood weight gain. Obesity Medicine Association. November 22, 2022. Accessed November 2, 2023.

Processed Foods and Health. The Nutrition Source. August 10, 2023.

Kininmonth AR, Herle M, Haycraft E, et al. Reciprocal associations between parental feeding practices and child eating behaviours from toddlerhood to early childhood: Bivariate latent change analysis in the Gemini cohort. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2023;64(10):1432-1445. doi:10.1111/jcpp.13819

Gavin ML, ed. Kids and sleep (for parents). KidsHealth. January 2021.

The impact of poor sleep on type 2 diabetes - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

How much sleep do you need? Sleep Foundation. November 3, 2023. Accessed November 8, 2023.

How much physical activity do children need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 30, 2023.

Duan MJ, Vinke PC, Navis G, Corpeleijn E, Dekker LH. Ultra-processed food and incident type 2 diabetes: studying the underlying consumption patterns to unravel the health effects of this heterogeneous food category in the prospective Lifelines cohort. BMC Med. 2022;20(1):7. Published 2022 Jan 13. doi:10.1186/s12916-021-02200-4

Fruits. USDA MyPlate Fruit Group – One of the Five Food Groups.

Vegetables. USDA MyPlate Vegetable Group – One of the Five Food Groups.

Rodriguez Rocha NP, Kim H. EHealth interventions for fruit and vegetable intake: A meta-analysis of effectiveness. Health Education & Behavior. 2019;46(6):947-959. doi:10.1177/1090198119859396


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