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Tips for Teens: Lower Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

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Tips for Teens: Lower Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

This tip sheet encourages teens to take steps to lower their risk for type 2 diabetes and provides advice on reaching a healthy weight and leading an active lifestyle.  It includes healthy food and activity guides.

Last reviewed: 11/01/2012

What is type 2 diabetes?

Image of teens hiking through the woods

Diabetes means that blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Glucose comes from the food we eat and is needed to fuel our bodies. Glucose is also stored in our liver and muscles. Your blood always has some glucose in it because your body needs glucose for energy. An organ called the pancreas makes insulin. Insulin helps glucose get from your blood into your cells. Cells take the glucose and turn it into energy.

If you have diabetes, the pancreas makes little or no insulin or your cells cannot use insulin very well. Glucose builds up in your blood and cannot get into your cells. If blood glucose stays too high, it can damage many parts of the body such as the heart, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you may need to take insulin or pills to help your body’s supply of insulin work better. Type 2 used to be called “adult onset diabetes.” Now more teens are getting type 2, especially if they are overweight.

How can I lower my risk for getting type 2 diabetes?

There are several ways to lower your risk:

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What puts you at risk?

Image of a girl jogging

You are at risk if you:

  • are overweight
  • don’t get enough physical activity
  • have a mom, dad, or other close relative who has type 2 diabetes
  • are American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, or Pacific Islander

FACT: Eating too much sugar DOES NOT cause diabetes.

How will physical activity help?

Like eating well, physical activity can help you feel good. Being physically active may:

  • help you control your weight, build lean muscle, and reduce your body fat
  • strengthen your bones
  • increase flexibility and balance
  • improve your self-esteem and mood
  • help you sleep better
  • help you focus in school
  • improve your teamwork skills through sports

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Know the warning signs:

If you have type 2 diabetes, you might:

  • urinate a lot
  • be very thirsty
  • lose weight without any reason
  • feel tired
  • have patches of thick, dark skin that feels like velvet on your neck or under your arms

Some teens do not notice any of these warning signs. They find out they have diabetes when they go to their doctor for a check-up.

What can I do to be more physically active?

Image of teens playing soccer

Okay, let’s get started:

  • Set small goals at first. Do not get upset if you can not do a lot or if you get out of breath at first. Keep moving! Any amount of activity will help. Add more activity each week until you reach your goal.

  • Aim for at least 60 minutes everyday. You don’t have to do it all at once—20 minutes at a time, three times a day is okay, too. There are lots of ways to be active. Go for a walk, ride a bike, dance, play ball, or shoot hoops. Choose what you like best, then do it!

  • If you are overweight, check with your doctor before you start a physical activity program.

  • Be active every day. Physical activity should be part of your daily life. Play sports, take P.E. or dance, or other exercise classes—check out your local Y for some ideas. Get from place to place by walking or biking. Take the stairs whenever you can.

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What can I eat?

“Your Healthy Food Guide” gives ideas about what kinds of foods are good for you. Remember, this is only a guide. Talk with your doctor or dietitian about making a meal plan just for you.

Your Healthy Food Guide

Graphic image of vegetables

Choose dark green and orange vegetables as often as you can.

Aim for 2 1⁄2 to 3 cups a day. Here are choices that equal 1 cup:

  • 1 cup cut up raw or cooked or vegetables
  • 2 cups leafy salad greens
  • 1 cup vegetable juice
Graphic image of milk, yogurt, and cheese

Aim for 3 cups a day. Here are choices that equal 1 cup:

  • 1 cup nonfat or low-fat milk or yogurt
  • 1 1⁄2 ounces cheese

Graphic image of fruit.

Choose fresh whole fruits as often as you can.

Aim for 1 1⁄2 to 2 cups a day. Here are choices that equal 1 cup:

  • 1 cup cut up raw or cooked fruit
  • 1 cup fruit juice
  • 1⁄2 cup dried fruit

Choose fresh whole fruits as often as you can.

Graphic image of breads, cereals, rice, and pasta

Choose whole grain foods for at least 3 of your 6 choices.

Aim for 6 to 7 ounces a day. Here are choices that equal 1 ounce:

  • 1⁄2 cup of cooked cereal
  • 1⁄2 cup cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread
  • 1⁄2 small bagel or 1 small muffin

Choose whole grain foods for at least 3 of your 6 choices.

Graphic image of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts

Aim for 5 to 6 ounces a day. Here are choices that equal 1 ounce:

  • 1 ounce lean meat, fish, or chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1⁄2 ounce nuts
  • 1⁄4 cup cooked dry peas or beans such as kidney, white, split, or blackeye
  • 1⁄4 cup tofu
Graphic image of vegetable oil, olive, margarine, avocado

One serving is

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable, olive, or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon tub margarine
  • 5 large olives or 1⁄8 avocado
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat salad dressing

How much should you eat?
You get most of the fat your body needs from other foods you eat—so choose only a few extra servings of these heart-healthy fats each day.

Graphic image of of soda pop, candy, cookies and dessert.If you choose to eat these foods, have a very small amount and not every day.

How much should I eat? The amount of food you need to eat each day varies with your age, sex, height, and activity level. The amounts in “Your Healthy Food Guide” are right for girls age 11 to 17 or boys age 11 to 14 who get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day. If you are a boy older than 14, or if you want to enter your own height or activity level, visit

Limit your screen time. Turn off the TV and get moving! Several studies have found that teens who watch a lot of TV have more body fat than those who watch TV less than two hours a day.

Try to cut some calories. If you cut 100 to 200 calories a day, it can make a big difference.
If you: You could cut about:
Drink water instead of regular soda or a sweetened fruit drink
150 calories
Eat a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar or a bag of chips
200 calories
Eat a small serving of french fries or share a big one
250 calories
Eat one half cup of sugar-free, nonfat pudding instead of regular ice cream
150 calories

Try these healthy eating tips.

Image of a girls with a basket full of vegetables

  • Take your time when you eat. It takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. So, wait 15 minutes before eating second helpings.
  • Do not skip meals. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a snack. You will have a ready supply of energy and not get too hungry.
  • For breakfast, try one or two slices of whole grain toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a hard-boiled egg, or a piece of low-fat cheese, along with a glass of low-fat or nonfat milk.
  • Make a sandwich with turkey or lean beef for lunch. Use mustard or a little low-fat mayonnaise.
  • Snack on a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat or nonfat milk and a piece of fruit.
  • Don’t “super-size” it! Order smaller, kid-sized meals and drink water or low-fat or nonfat milk. Share a larger meal with a friend.
  • Fill up half of your plate with salad or vegetables. Use small amounts of low-fat salad dressing, mayonnaise, or margarine.

What’s in it for me?

If you lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, you will:

  • have more energy
  • feel good about yourself
  • be healthy now and in the future

Take action now. Use the ideas in this tip sheet to stay healthy and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes.

Are studies being done about type 2 diabetes?

Yes, studies are being done to learn ways to help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes in kids and teens.

The SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study is finding out how many kids and teens have type 2 diabetes.

The TODAY Trial is finding the best ways to treat type 2 diabetes in kids and teens.

The HEALTHY Study is testing a program to lower risk factors for type 2 diabetes in middle school students.

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