Diabetes awareness is first step in fighting it
In my life before kids, I had the best job — working with the endocrinology team at Children's Memorial Hospital.
Working closely with all the families was extremely rewarding, but now that I'm a mom, I can better empathize with the challenges diabetes can place on the day-to-day life of a child, their family, and their friends.
Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day, and I couldn't think of a better topic to discuss this month, especially with the sweet treats of the holiday season upon us.
According to the American Diabetes Association, about 1 in every 400 children and adolescents has diabetes. Even if your family is not directly affected by diabetes, there's a pretty good chance your kids know other children in their school or play groups that may be diagnosed.
What is diabetes?
Your body has some amount of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. Glucose comes from the food we eat and is an important source of energy for cells to grow and work. For most people, the pancreas does a great job at releasing a hormone insulin. Insulin is the key that unlocks the cells, allowing glucose to move from the blood into the cells. But when a child develops diabetes, their body has difficulty maintaining the glucose in the blood, either because he stopped producing insulin (type 1 diabetes) or isn't making enough insulin (type 2 diabetes). Although science has made leaps and bounds in the management of diabetes, it can still change the day-to-day activities in the life of a kid. He might not be able to eat what he wants, when he wants. He might need to take more breaks during sports and activities to check blood glucose levels. He may even need to take insulin or medication in the middle of class.
Diabetes and food
The biggest food myth to debunk is that kids with diabetes have to eat different foods (assumption is no sugar) from the rest of their family and friends. Luckily these days, whether the child is using insulin or lifestyle to manage their blood sugars, nutrition guidelines are flexible and help kids keep their favorite and special-occasion foods in their diet. Having sugar-free options available is a great idea but not because sugar is off-limits.
Depending on what type of insulin or medication a child is using, the amount of food they can eat at one sitting and the timing of their meals and snacks can vary a lot. Despite this, kids with diabetes are aware of the amount of carbohydrates they're consuming — counting total carbohydrates, not just sugar grams. Carbs are mostly found in: grains/beans/legumes, fruits, milk/yogurt, starchy veggies (corn, peas, potatoes), and sugary sweets, treats and drinks. Whether a simple play date or a holiday party, a plan to know when and how much the child should eat is the best support you can offer.
Unfortunately, even with the best plan, kids can experience low blood sugars from time to time for a variety of reasons, such as skipping meals or snacks, not eating enough food (especially carbohydrates), taking too much insulin, or having more physical activity than usual.
"The most important factor to consider when having a child with diabetes to your house is how to keep them safe – you can do this by being very aware of the signs and symptoms of low blood sugars," according to Nicole McNally, pediatric nurse and diabetes educator.
Keep the following symptoms handy and have a plan from the parents on how to treat the child in the event of a low blood sugar:
Low-blood sugar symptoms
Usual early symptoms
•Numbness of mouth/lips
Usual later symptoms
•Loss of consciousness
Source: New York University Medical Center
Finding a Cure?
Today, we don't have a cure for diabetes but there is amazing research going on with islet cells and stem cells. Until that cure is found, Nov. 14, World Diabetes Day, marks the birthday of Frederick Banting, who was instrumental in the discovery of our life-saving treatment of insulin.
If you're looking for even more information, here are some great resources:
•American Diabetes Association, diabetes.org
•International Diabetes Federation, idf.org
•Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, kids.jdrf.org
•Joslin Diabetes Center, joslin.org
Contact me: If you have any feedback, comments or questions on this topic or any others, I would love to hear from you! You can send me an email at email@example.com with your thoughts.
•Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Northwest suburbs.
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