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Signs of Insulin Resistance in Kids

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Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas in the human body. It helps the body store and use the blood sugar obtained from food. After we eat a meal, the cells in the pancreas release insulin, which helps glucose enter the cells in the body where it is needed for energy. This lowers blood sugar levels by moving glucose from the blood to the cells. However, in some people, the body cannot properly use insulin. This condition is called insulin resistance. 

Please continue reading to learn more about insulin resistance. Find out whether it occurs in children and what it means if your child has insulin resistance. 

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body stops responding properly to the hormone insulin, making it hard for glucose to enter cells in the body. This leads to high blood sugar levels because the sugars stay in the blood. 

In the early stages of insulin resistance, the pancreas senses a problem and ramps up insulin production. This can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) and is called impaired glucose tolerance. 

But ultimately, the pancreas becomes overworked, and insulin production slows down. As a result, the blood glucose concentration rises, and a person develops prediabetes, which can progress to full-blown diabetes. Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than average, but not high enough to be called diabetes.

Can a child be insulin resistant?

Yes, a child can develop insulin resistance, although the condition is more common in people over the age of 45. However, with the increasing problem of obesity, it is more frequent to see children with insulin resistance these days. Adults and children with insulin resistance are at risk of developing diabetes mellitus.

What are the risk factors for insulin resistance in children?

Insulin resistance commonly occurs in an overweight or obese person, whether a child or an adult. Other risk factors for insulin resistance include being physically inactive and having too much belly fat. A family history of diabetes in a parent or sibling increases the risk of developing insulin resistance. 

Insulin resistance is linked to several health conditions such as high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels (high LDL or low HDL cholesterol), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fatty liver, obstructive sleep apnea, heart disease, and stroke. 

It is also linked to metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood glucose, too much belly fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Metabolic syndrome raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. 

How do you know if your child is insulin resistant?

There is no widely available test for insulin resistance (the one that’s available is complicated and is used mainly for research). However, doctors can detect prediabetes in children and adults with simple blood tests, including fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). Sometimes, doctors perform an oral glucose tolerance test which checks how the body handles glucose after a meal. 

What are the symptoms of being insulin resistant?

Insulin resistance and prediabetes do not usually cause any symptoms. Some people can develop acanthosis nigricans, which is a darkening of the skin folds in areas like the armpits and neck. Small growths called skin tags can appear in these same areas. 

How do you reverse insulin resistance in children?

A weight management program consisting of a healthy diet and increased physical activity can help a child lose weight, which can help the child’s body respond better to insulin. These small steps can help reverse insulin resistance and reduce a child’s risk of developing prediabetes and diabetes mellitus. 

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health called the Diabetes Prevention Program found that losing just 5-7% of body weight can reduce the chances of developing diabetes — 6 to 8 pounds for a child who weighs 120 pounds. The study also showed that this could be accomplished by making changes in the diet and becoming more physically active.

Oral glucose-lowering drugs used to treat diabetes can also be used to delay diabetes. Metformin is the only oral drug approved to treat diabetes in children. The Diabetes Prevention Program found that taking metformin can delay the onset of diabetes. Several studies have shown that metformin improves insulin sensitivity.

If your child has been diagnosed with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes mellitus, it’s important to get your child to a healthy weight by limiting junk food and increasing physical activity. Work with your child’s health care professional to develop a plan for weight loss. 

Lifestyle changes can prevent or reverse insulin resistance in children. If lifestyle changes are not enough, talk to your child’s healthcare provider about metformin, a medication that can improve impaired insulin sensitivity.


  1. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29173789/#