For the Classroom: Activities to Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Marjorie Lanier, MPH – Healthy Communities Facilitator, Southeastern NC

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that results in blood sugar levels being too high. If blood sugar levels stay too high for too long, it can damage the heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and even the teeth and gums. In the past, only adults got type 2 diabetes. However, as more children and adolescents in the United States become overweight or obese and inactive, type 2 diabetes is on the rise among young people. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that approximately 17% (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents in the United States aged 2—19 years are obese.

The first stage in the development of type 2 diabetes is often insulin resistance, requiring increasing amounts of insulin to be produced by the pancreas to control blood glucose levels. Initially, the pancreas responds by producing more insulin, but after several years, insulin production may decrease and diabetes develops. Type 2 diabetes usually develops slowly and may occur without symptoms.

Diabetes screening is recommended for all children and adolescents at high risk, even if they have no signs or symptoms of the condition. A child may be at high risk if he or she:

  • Is overweight
  • Has a sibling, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin with type 2 diabetes
  • Is black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, as these racial groups have a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes
  • Has signs of insulin resistance, such as darkened skin on the neck or armpits

A child should also see his or her doctor if any of the signs or symptoms of diabetes are present — increased thirst and urination, increased hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, or frequent infections.

How Can You Help?

Promoting a healthy weight through healthful eating and more physical activity is the best way to prevent a child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Check out resources that can be used in the classroom to promote healthy habits:

MyPlate Activity Sheets– a variety of printable activities that offer kids ideas and tips for healthier eating

Blast Offan interactive website game that challenges kids to build a healthy plate

Energizers – classroom based physical activities for grades K-8 that integrate physical activity with academic concepts

Activity Bursts for the Classroomshows elementary schools how to restructure physical activity into multiple, brief episodes throughout the day without taking away valuable time for classroom instruction

GoNoodle – offers 5-minute brain breaks that can be used to calm, focus, or energize students.  Sign up is free.


Overview of Diabetes in Children and Adolescents, From the National Diabetes Education Program.

National Diabetes Education Program, a partnership of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Mayo Clinic