Type 2 diabetes used to be rare among children and teens younger than 18.  But as a study highlighted in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that is no longer the case.

The SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth study , funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes increased by 4.8 percent between 2002 and 2012, researchers reported.

In the United States, 29.1 million people are living with diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, and about 208,000 people younger than 20 years are living with diagnosed diabetes.

“That young people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at a higher rate is concerning, because diabetes can lessen a person’s quality of life and shorten their life expectancy,” said Dr. Denise Cunill, a pediatrician and medical director at Cook County Healths Logan Square Health Center.

Though a reason for the increase in type 2 diabetes wasn’t analyzed in the SEARCH study, it is believed to be tied to the high rates of childhood obesity in the United States.  The percentage of children with obesity in America has more than tripled since the 1970s, and today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity, according to the CDC .

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels, and it is often associated with being overweight or obese.

But the good news is, just like with adults, type 2 diabetes can be controlled or prevented in teens or kids by maintaining a healthy diet and getting exercise.

To help your child develop healthy habits, Dr. Cunill recommended parents try these steps:

  • Limit kids’ screen time per day to no more than 2 hours
  • Be a positive role model by practicing healthy eating habits and daily exercise
  • Cut down on high-calorie foods like sugary drinks (including juice, soda and sports drinks), cookies, chips and fast food
  • Avoid large portions and bedtime snacks for your kids
  • Encourage your kids to sweat and move their bodies daily