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Back to school: Help for kids with diabetes

Consumer Reports News: August 18, 2010 05:08 AM

An estimated 24 million people in the United States have type 2 diabetes—that’s about 8 percent of the population, up from 2.5 percent in 1980. Anyone with this chronic condition who receives proper and consistent care can live a good quality life, and can work and function normally. But if your child has diabetes, you may be anxious about how consistently he takes care of his condition during the day, once he heads off to school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently released guide, Helping your child manage diabetes at school, offers parents and kids tips to help them manage their diabetes during the school day and at extracurricular activities.

Since a person with diabetes must manage this chronic illness constantly, the help of school staff such as nurses, teachers, and coaches can prove essential. They may help your child take medications, check blood-sugar levels, choose healthy foods in the cafeteria, and be physically active. (See One in five children have risk factors for heart disease.)

The CDC suggests you:

  • Create a diabetes management plan with the school. Work with your child’s doctor and school staff to manage diabetes throughout the day, and to learn how the school handles any diabetes-related emergencies.
  • Check for necessary diabetes supplies. A child with diabetes should carry a blood glucose meter, testing strips, lancets, extra batteries and glucose tablets, as well as other essentials in their backpack every day.
  • Make sure your child can manage diabetes at a level appropriate for his or her age. If a trained school employee helps your child monitor their blood sugar, make sure your child knows the symptoms of low blood sugar and where and when to go for testing. If carrying their supplies presents a problem, arrange for supplies to be left with a responsible adult at the school.
  • Encourage your child to eat healthy foods. Prepare a healthy breakfast, and pack a healthy lunch.
  • Make sure your child gets one hour of physical activity every day. Being active can help your child improve his or her blood-sugar control. Also, limit TV and computer screen time to ensure adequate time for physical activity.
  • Help prevent sick days. Children with diabetes can take longer to recover than those without the condition. Make sure your child has all the recommended vaccinations, including the flu shot, and washes her hands regularly.


About 1.5 to 2 million people in the U.S. have a form of the disease called type 1 diabetes. In this condition—usually diagnosed in childhood or the early teen years—the pancreas stops producing insulin altogether. People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin every day.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most serious medical conditions affecting our nation today. In this type, the body’s cells become resistant or insensitive to insulin, which is then produced in less-than-optimal amounts by the pancreas. It was once referred to as “adult onset” diabetes, but no longer. In recent years, the incidence of type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents has exploded. A good part of that surge is due to the dramatic increase in the number of young people who are physically inactive and overweight or obese over the last 20 years. (See 4 ways to keep your child at a healthy weight.)

Studies conclusively show that diabetes more than doubles the risk of developing and dying of heart disease and other problems. Indeed, the condition is as potent a predictor and risk factor for heart disease and heart attack as are cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and uncontrolled high cholesterol.

As the CDC notes, parents and schools want all students to be safe and to learn in a supportive environment. By taking these steps, parents can get their children on the right track.


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