Are Unhealthy Eating Habits Causing Diabetes in Kids?

By Cari Oleskewicz
Unhealthy eating habits can lead to obesity and diabetes.
Unhealthy eating habits can lead to obesity and diabetes.

The rate of diabetes in the United States is growing, and children are more at risk for becoming diabetic because of their lifestyle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2010, 215,000 people under the age of 20 had the disease. Diabetes can lead to kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and strokes. In children, it is often due to genetics or obesity, which is why establishing good eating habits is so important. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists poor diet as one of the leading causes of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes. Unhealthy eating habits can lead to diabetes in kids, especially if they are genetically prone to the disease.


High levels of glucose in the blood causes diabetes. This occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin or when the insulin is not working the way it should. Type 1 diabetes is the result of the body destroying the pancreatic cells responsible for creating insulin. This was once the only form of diabetes that children and young adults developed, and it even had a name: juvenile onset diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body's cells do not use insulin properly, creating a more urgent need for insulin, which the pancreas cannot produce. Type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC, is due to obesity, family history and physical inactivity.

Diabetes Risk in Children

Type 1 diabetes is largely genetic, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you or your partner have the disease, your child's risk increases, and if you both have the disease, the risk is even higher. Your child’s pediatrician can administer a test to your school-aged child to determine how well his body processes glucose. Type 2 diabetes also has a link to genetics, but a child's risk is higher with bad habits such as eating unhealthy food and avoiding exercise. Your child's lifestyle will make a difference, especially if you and your partner do not have Type 2 diabetes yourselves.

Eating Habits in Kids

The unhealthy eating habits that contribute to the diabetes risk include eating foods high in sugar and fat and choosing processed foods over fresh, whole foods that represent the basic food groups. The National Institute for Health conducted a study in 2010 that showed 40 percent of an average child's diet is made up of fat and sugar. Instead of swinging through a fast food restaurant window or loading up on sugary and salty packaged snacks, provide your kids with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lots of protein. Instead of frying food, choose to broil, grill or bake what you serve. Encourage kids to drink water and milk instead of soda or sugary juices.

Marketing Unhealthy Foods

Organizations such as WHO, the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children and the Prevention Institute note that heavy marketing of unhealthy foods to children might be responsible for bad eating habits and for the increase of diseases such as diabetes. These organizations recommend a decrease in the exposure that kids have to advertisements for food high in saturated fat, sugar, fatty acids and salts. This decrease is unlikely in the United States, where the food and beverage industry spent $40 billion in 2010 lobbying against regulations that would make such marketing harder or increase taxes on soda.

About the Author

Cari Oleskewicz is a writer and blogger who has contributed to online and print publications including "The Washington Post," "Italian Cooking and Living," "Sasee Magazine" and Pork and Gin. She is based in Tampa, Florida and holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications and journalism from Marist College.