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Insulin resistance in young people

“Previously insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes were conditions almost only seen in adults but these conditions are now being diagnosed in children and adolescents.

Health lifestyle choices such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and developing healthy food choices and eating habits can help young children and adolescents reduce their risk of developing these conditions.”

Dr Christine Bennett
Chair, Medical Advisory Panel, Bupa Australia

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body produces insulin but doesn’t respond to it properly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body use glucose for energy. The body breaks food down into glucose, which insulin then helps cells to absorb.

When people are insulin resistant, their muscle, fat and liver do not respond properly to insulin and their bodies need more of it to help glucose enter cells. As a result the body produces more insulin and eventually the pancreas has difficulty keeping up with the demand. People with insulin resistance have higher levels of insulin and glucose in their blood.

Your chances of developing insulin resistance are increased by factors such as a family history of diabetes, being overweight or obese and physical inactivity. Insulin resistance increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Read more about type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance or pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, although not high enough to be called diabetes. People with insulin resistance and pre-diabetes usually have no symptoms or other warning signs, so you may have one or both conditions for several years without even knowing it.

Which young people are at risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes?

Children and adolescents most at risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are those who:
  • are overweight or obese
  • have close family members with type 2 diabetes
  • have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.

How is insulin resistance and pre-diabetes diagnosed?

Your doctor will organise for a blood test to check blood glucose levels. They may also order an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) to find out how well sugar is absorbed in your body. The results from these tests can help show if your blood glucose level and response to glucose are in the normal, insulin resistant, pre-diabetes or diabetes range.

How is insulin resistance and pre-diabetes treated?

The main aim of treating insulin resistance and pre-diabetes is to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. This usually involves lifestyle changes such as:

  • losing weight, which will help the body become more sensitive to insulin and use glucose more effectively
  • being physically active - this helps to manage weight and reduce blood glucose levels
  • as a family, developing healthy food choices and eating habits. Reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in the family diet
  • eating more fruit, vegetables and high fibre foods.

Further information

Diabetes Australia


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). A Picture of Australia's Children. Cat. no. PHE 112. [online] Canberra, ACT: AIHW. Jun 2009. [Accessed 6 July 2011].

Diabetes Australia. Pre-diabetes information sheet. [online] Canberra, ACT: Diabetes Australia. c2011 [Accessed 7 July 2011] Available from:

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC). Insulin resistance. [online] Bethseda, MD: NDIC. 2008 [accessed 7 Jul 2011] Available from:

Last published: 30 October 2011

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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