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Expert Advice: Is my overweight child at risk of type 1 diabetes?


My child is overweight and I’m worried that he might get type 1 diabetes. How can I prevent it?


Unfortunately, despite years of research into various prevention strategies, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone responsible for the body’s storage and use of glucose. Also known as an autoimmune disease, it is typically diagnosed in children and young adults. More than 300,000 Canadians are living with the disease.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually occur over a period of weeks to a few months and are typically characterized by weight loss, extreme thirst and frequent urination.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is preventable. More than 90 percent of diabetes cases are actually associated with type 2 diabetes, in which the body is unable to properly use the insulin it produces. It typically occurs in adulthood and is more common in the elderly. Although there is a strong genetic component to type 2 diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity are also risk factors.

Until recently, it was extremely rare and almost unheard of to see type 2 diabetes occurring in young adults and even rarer in children. In recent years we are seeing an upsurge in cases of type 2 diabetes in those under 30, believed to be caused by the childhood obesity epidemic and reduced levels of physical activity.

It’s not easy to encourage children and young adults to increase their physical activity and to eat a healthy diet, since so many factors in our environment encourage the opposite. Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable, so it’s important for parents to make every attempt to encourage healthy lifestyles in their children from a young age.


Dr. Gary Lewis is Sun Life Financial Chair in Diabetes and Director of Banting and Best Diabetes Centre at the University of Toronto

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2014.

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