Type 2 diabetes used to be practically unheard of in people under 30. That explains the other common name for the disease: adult-onset diabetes. Not long ago, almost all children with diabetes suffered from the type 1 form of the disease, which means their bodies couldn’t produce enough insulin. And type 2 diabetes, in which the pancreas may produce normal insulin levels but cells become resistant to it, typically took decades to develop.

But type 2 diabetes isn’t just for adults anymore. The number of children and adolescents with the condition (most of whom are diagnosed in their early teens) has skyrocketed within the last 20 years, prompting the journal Diabetes Care to call it an “emerging epidemic.” While type 1 diabetes is still more prevalent among children nationwide, experts estimate that type 2 diabetes has grown from less than 5 percent in 1994 to about 20 percent of all newly diagnosed cases of the disease among youth in more recent years.

Because young children who are obese are more likely to become diabetic when they’re older, experts are paying particular attention to how much — or how little — pre-adolescents eat and exercise. Disease researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the prediction that one in three children born in the United States in 2000 will likely develop type 2 diabetes sometime in their lifetime unless they get more exercise and improve their diets. The prediction was especially serious for Latino children. Without changes in diet and exercise, their odds of developing diabetes as they grow older was about 50-50.

Type 2 is not usually as life-threatening or dramatic as type 1 at the time of diagnosis, but it does increase the likelihood that children may develop serious long-term complications such as blindness, kidney disease, and heart disease. If untreated, the child may also eventually develop circulatory problems severe enough to require amputation of limbs.

With proper medical treatment and a self-care program that incorporates exercise, glucose monitoring, and nutrition, however, your child can likely keep his or her blood sugar under control and avoid serious complications.