Research from New Zealand's Liggins Institute shows that a form of diabetes previously found only in adults is increasingly being identified in Polynesian children.
The research shows Māori and Pasifika children in New Zealand are 18 times more likely to suffer from Type 2 Diabetes than European children.
A paediatric endocrinologist involved in the research, Ben Albert, said it was still uncommon in children but rates had been increasing annually at 3-to-5 percent over the last 20 years.
Both the life-style related Type 2 and auto-immune linked Type 1 diabetes have been climbing at the same rate among children.
While genetic predisposition was a factor for Type 2, obesity was the major contributor, Dr Albert said.
Curing the illness was difficult so prevention was paramount, he said.
"Activities that might reduce the rates of over-weight and obesity are the same sort of things that would reduce Type 2 Diabetes: focusing on healthy lifestyles, keeping kids really active, making sure that diets are balanced and avoiding common pitfalls in our diets that lead us to take in more calories than we need like sugary drinks."
Families are being encouraged to seek medical care if their children are showing symptoms of diabetes, said Dr Albert. These can include tiredeness, constant thirst, frequent toilet visits and infections.
The research was conducted by the Liggins institute which used 21 years of patient records from the Paediatric Diabetes Service at Auckland's Starship Hospital.