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Type 2 diabetes in children and young adults

You may be wondering if you have type 2 diabetes, or you may have recently found out you have it. There is a lot of information and support to help you find out more about diabetes. It is important you find the right information to help you look after your health.

A good place to start is learning about type 2 diabetes and how you as a younger person can manage it to stay healthy. Start with what you can do and build your confidence. Ask for help along the way. There is support to help you and your family navigate your journey with diabetes.

Knowing what type 2 diabetes is, starts with knowing how your body works.

To find out more, watch the video:

Click here to read the video transcript


What is diabetes or a high blood glucose level? 

Diabetes is a condition when there is too much glucose or sugar in the blood. Understanding what diabetes is starts with understanding how your body works.

Your body needs energy so you can move, think and live.

Energy comes from glucose found in foods and drinks containing sugars and starches. These are called carbohydrate, or carb foods. Once food is digested, the glucose moves into the bloodstream.

To keep the amount of glucose in your blood at the right level, cells in your pancreas produce a hormone called insulin.

In response to glucose moving into the bloodstream, insulin moves into the bloodstream as well.

Insulin lowers the blood glucose level by opening the cells of the body, so glucose can move from the blood into the cells, to be used for energy or stored for later use. For this reason, insulin is often called a “key” that unlocks the cells to let the glucose in, to be used as energy.

In people without diabetes the amount of glucose in the blood, or blood glucose level, stays within a healthy range. When a person starts to develop type 2 diabetes the blood glucose level rises too high. Let us look at why this happens.

The main reason is because the pancreas makes less insulin or because the insulin made is not working properly. This is called insulin resistance. This is when the body’s cells resist or block the insulin from working. This causes more glucose to stay in the bloodstream.

The cells in the pancreas work harder to make more insulin, to try and lower the amount of glucose in the blood. Over time these cells grow tired and struggle to make enough insulin.

Whether it’s insulin resistanceless insulin being made or a combination of both, more and more glucose stays in the bloodstream.

Once the blood glucose level is too high, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed. As this happens slowly over time many people may have type 2 diabetes and not know it.

If you are wondering if you have type 2 diabetes, you need to check in with your doctor, practice nurse, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health practitioner or other health professional.

They will ask about any risk factors and symptoms, and send you for one or more of the following blood tests:

  • a fasting blood glucose
  • glycated haemoglobin or HbA1c
  • oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)
  • fasting insulin level to check for insulin resistance.

For more information about fasting blood and OGTT read our fact sheet Understanding pre-diabetes.

It is important you know it is not your fault you have diabetes. There are many reasons why some young people are more likely to get diabetes than other young people. We call these reasons risk factors.

Knowing your risk factors may help you understand why you were diagnosed and what you can do to look after your diabetes. To find out more watch the video:

Click here to read the video transcript.


You may be wondering “why me and why now?”

While researchers do not fully understand why some people develop type 2 diabetes and others do not, it is clear that certain factors increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Knowing these risk factors may help you understand why you were diagnosed.

So what are the risk factors? 

  • Family history of diabetes: The more people in your family with diabetes, the more likely you will be diagnosed.
  • Age: From 40 years on, your risk of type 2 diabetes increases with each year. 
  • Your background contributes, especially if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or from the Indian subcontinent. 
  • If you are female and have had gestational diabetes, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, which also increases your risk.

There are more risk factors, we call them lifestyle risk factors. These are…

  • Having more centimetres around your waistline.
  • Not being very active such as sitting for long periods of time adds to your risk as well.
  • Other health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or smoking increases your risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Stop and think for a minute: Which of these risk factors may have led to your diagnosis?

Knowing these, can help you look for ways to make changes going forward to look after your diabetes.

Being physically active, making healthier food choices and losing some centimetres from your waistline can all have a positive effect on your blood glucose level and your wellbeing.

These are key to managing your diabetes to lead a healthier life.

Share this information with your family and friends. Making healthier lifestyle choices may help delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.

While you cannot change your diagnosis of diabetes, you can manage it. Looking after your diabetes is an important part of looking after your health.

It starts with balancing your blood glucose level. This means working out what combination of healthy eating and drinking, physical activity and medication works for you.

So, what makes your blood glucose level go up?

  • Food and drinks that have carbohydrates or carbs in them will make your blood glucose level go up. Carbs include sugars and starches.
  • Stress and illness (such as the flu) can make your blood glucose levels rise.
  • Some medications like steroids can also affect your blood glucose levels.
  • Not getting enough sleep can affect your hormone levels which can make your blood glucose level go up too. And when you are tired, you are more likely to crave foods that make your blood glucose level rise.

And what makes your blood glucose level go down?

  • Some medications, including insulin will make your blood glucose levels go down.
  • Not eating enough carb food and drink or skipping meals can also make your blood glucose levels go down.
  • Being physically active also lowers your blood glucose level. Not only while you move, but for hours after.
  • Being sick (vomiting) or having diarrhoea can make your blood glucose levels go down too.

Finding your balance may be challenging, but you can start with some simple steps:

Step 1: Food and drink
Think about what, how much and how often you are eating and drinking. Even eating healthy foods such as fruit can affect your blood glucose level if you eat too much.

Step 2: Physical activity
Look for ways to be more active, such as sitting less, or standing more often. Have a look at the physical activity and exercise guidelines link at the bottom of this page for more information.

Step 3: Sleep
Make sure you are getting enough sleep and taking care of your stress levels and emotional wellbeing. If you are between 14 – 17 years, you need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Once you turn 18 years, you need slight less, about 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

Remember, keeping your blood glucose level in your target range is the key to feeling well now, and in the future.

There are two ways of monitoring your diabetes. One you can do by yourself using a blood glucose meter. The other way is a blood test your doctor gets you to do at the pathology lab called an HbA1c, or glycated haemoglobin. It measures the amount of glucose (sugar) attached to the red blood cells in your body. The general target is 53 millmoles per mol (mmol/mol) or less. Or in the old measurement, 7 % or less.

Both are tools you and your doctor can use to make sure your blood glucose levels are in your target range.

Click here to read why it is important to track how you are going.

Keeping your blood glucose level, or BGL, in your target range is all about finding the right balance.

Monitoring your blood glucose level can help you find this balance, as it shows you the effect of food, activity, medication, stress or illness on your blood glucose level.

There are two ways of monitoring. The first one is an HbA1c test

  • It is a blood test your doctor asks you to do, at least every 12 months.
  • It shows the effect glucose has had on your red blood cells over the past 10 to 12 weeks.

The other way to check your blood glucose level is with a blood glucose meter.

  • It is a check you can do yourself.
  • It shows you your current blood glucose level.
  • If your blood glucose level often goes too high or too low, you might need to make changes to your eating pattern, activity levels or talk to your doctor about your medication.

It is up to you whether or not you wish to check your blood glucose levels, but your doctor may recommend you check it.

If you decide to start checking your blood glucose level, your doctor or other health professional can support you.

They can help you work out:

  • how often to check
  • the best times to check
  • the target range when checking your blood glucose levels.

They can also help you choose the blood glucose meter that best suits you and teach you how to use it.

Monitoring your blood glucose level is a tool to help you look after your diabetes.

Everyone with diabetes will need to have their HbA1c checked, but not everyone will need to check their blood glucose level with a meter. Both can help you prevent, delay or minimise the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.

If your blood glucose level is outside your target range, you may need to check more frequently.

Other reasons to check more often are:

  • being unwell or stressed
  • changes in your daily routine such as when you are studying
  • a change in your diabetes medication 
  • starting insulin injections
  • if your general health changes.

The most common time to check your blood glucose level is:

  • before breakfast
  • before a meal
  • 2 hours after you start eating a main meal.

Other times may be before bed, before driving or before exercise, depending on the medication you take for your diabetes.

The result on the meter shows you your blood glucose level in millimoles per litre.

The general target range for people with type 2 diabetes is:

  • 4 to 7mmol/L when fasting and before meals 
  • 5 to 10mmol/L 2 hours after starting a meal.

Talk to your doctor, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health practitioner or other health professional about what your target range should be.

Keeping a record of your blood glucose levels can be very helpful. It can show you patterns in your results such as how certain foods or physical activity may affect your blood glucose levels. This can help you make changes to your lifestyle or medication and keep your blood glucose levels in your target range.

It is important to know the signs and symptoms if your blood glucose level is too high.

Some common reasons can be:

  • being sick or having an infection
  • needing more diabetes medication
  • moving less
  • eating too much carb food and drinks
  • feeling stressed.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is a good idea to check your blood glucose level:

Passing more urine, more often,
especially at night.
Feeling more tired than usual or
having no energy.
Drinking more because you are
very thirsty or feel dehydrated.
Changes in your vision such as
Other symptoms include fungal
infections, or infected
sores that are not healing.

Regular health checks are important to keep your diabetes management on track. It will help reduce the risk of health problems in the future. 

One way to make sure these regular health checks happen for you is to follow the diabetes Annual cycle of care.

The Annual cycle of care is a list of the recommended health checks, including the general targets, who can do them for you and how often you should do them.

To find out more watch the video:

Click here to read the video transcript.


Regular health checks can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment are better. 

Now that you have been diagnosed with diabetes, there are some added risks to your health that you need to be aware of for now and into the future.

Blood glucose levels outside your target range for periods of time may increase your risk of diabetes-related complications

It causes the blood to be thick and sticky. This may affect the blood vessels in your eyes or kidneys, the nerves and blood supply in your feet, or increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

But it is not only your blood glucose level. Your agefamily history, lifestyle choices around food, alcoholphysical activitysmokingstress and other medical illnesses can also impact on your health.

The Annual cycle of care is a checklist that lists all the health checks you need.

  • Most health checks are once a year, some are needed more often.
  • This includes an eye check, a feet check, a hearing check and a regular dental check, even if you have dentures.
  • It also includes pathology tests to check your HbA1ccholesterol and kidney function.
  • As well as reviewing your diabetes management, you should discuss any health concerns you have with your doctor.
  • This may cover your food or physical activity choices, a check of the medication you are taking, and how you are going.

By doing these checks each year, you will put yourself in the best position to reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications, and take an important step that will help you live a healthier life.

When to have your health checks?

Your eyes should be checked at least once every two years. If you notice any changes to your vision, talk to your doctor or optometrist immediately.
You need your HbA1c checked every 3, 6 or 12 months depending on how your diabetes is going. You also need your cholesterol checked at least once a year and blood pressure checked at every visit to your doctor.
Your doctor will send you to have your kidneys checked once a year.
Your doctor, practice nurse or podiatrist will check the nerves and blood supply in your feet at least once a year.
Keep up with your regular dental check-ups — at least once a year.
What else? Your doctor may send you to have your liver function checked.

Once the results for the different checks are in, take the time to talk to your doctor. You might decide you need to see other health professionals such as a dietitian, exercise physiologist or psychologist.

Here are some things you can do to stay healthy.

  • Balancing your blood glucose level is a great start to stay healthy. Keep your blood glucose level within your target range as much as possible. 
  • But it is not just about your blood glucose level. Being active, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to look after your emotional and mental health, especially your stress levels, is also really important for your wellbeing.
  • Keep learning about diabetes to find out the best ways for you to keep your blood glucose level within your target range.
  • Plan for and attend all Annual cycle of care health checks. This helps to find possible problems early, when your chances for treatment are better. 

More information and support

Featured resources

Diabetes Australia acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this Country. We recognise their connection to land, waters, winds and culture. We pay the upmost respect to them, their cultures and to their Elders, past and present. We are committed to improving health outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by diabetes and those at risk.

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