Finding out your child has a condition like diabetes can be overwhelming. And, although it’s a disease that will always be part of your child’s life, getting help sooner rather than later is key to successfully managing the disease so your child can live a childhood unrestricted by the condition.
When children are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, it means there’s too much glucose — the body’s main source of energy for cells — in their bloodstream. Although glucose is found naturally in child’s body, it also comes from the food they eat. Too much or too little glucose in the blood can cause serious health problems.
Both types of diabetes can occur at any age, but kids with Type 1 diabetes make no insulin, and kids with Type 2 make insulin, but it doesn't work as well as it should.
Insulin is a hormone found in the pancreas that allows sugar to get into cells of the body so that sugar can be used as energy.
Symptoms of Children With Diabetes
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of children with diabetes include:
sugar in urine
sudden vision changes
sudden weight loss
fruity or sweet-like odor on breath
heavy or labored breathing
Diagnosing Children With Diabetes
Children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are typically diagnosed after presenting with symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, excessive urination, or excessive thirst. Children are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes typically through a urine sample during a routine examination and symptoms are less dramatic.
Some lab tests that may be used to diagnose diabetes include:
fasting plasma test (FPG): a blood test that measures blood glucose in someone who has fasted for at least 8 hours
oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): this test is given to someone who has fasted for 8 hours and then is asked to drink a glucose-containing beverage
random plasma glucose test: this blood glucose test is done without regard to fasting
Nutrition Tips for Children With Diabetes
At Nemours, our registered dietitians are part of your child’s diabetes care team. Nutrition is an important part of proper diabetes management. It’s not only about counting carbohydrates; it’s about healthy eating habits that are enjoyable.
Developing a Healthy Meal Plan
Healthy food choices should be encouraged for all family members. A registered dietitian at Nemours can help plan a healthy meal plan for your child with diabetes. Just as your child grows and develops, so must your child’s meal plan.
A healthy meal plan includes certain types of carbohydrates (carbs), lean protein, and fat and can be used for children with diabetes and without.
Carbohydrates are found in foods such as bread/starch, fruit, milk, and sweets. Eating carbs makes blood sugar levels rise, but that doesn’t mean that people with diabetes should avoid them — the body needs carbs. Since they affect blood sugar levels, it’s recommended children with diabetes track how many carbs they eat.
Follow these tips for healthy nutrition:
Choose healthy carbs that provide fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients,
whole wheat/grains instead of white bread, white pasta, or white rice
fresh fruit instead of fruit juices
fat-free or 1% milk instead of whole or 2% milk
light ice cream instead of full fat ice cream
limit desserts like cake, cookies, and candy, to special occasions
Choose protein from lean meats (cuts of beef and pork that end in “loin” or skinless chicken/turkey), egg whites, reduced-fat cheese, nuts, tofu, and beans.
Avoid foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, as these can raise heart-damaging cholesterol in the body. Choose heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, and avocado. Remember that all fats are high in calories, so watch your portion sizes if you are trying to lose or maintain weight.
Drink mainly water instead of regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks. It’s OK to have calorie-free “diet” drinks occasionally.
Watch your portion sizes! Eating too much of even healthy foods can lead to excessive weight gain.
Understanding DIABETES, By H. Peter Chase, MD, published by Children’s Diabetes Foundation at Denver (ISBN 978-098326500-9). An instructional manual for families of children with diabetes.
Diabetes Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Diabetes affects how the body uses glucose. Glucose comes from the foods we eat and is the main source of energy for the body's cells. Glucose levels in the blood are controlled by a hormone called insulin. Insulin is made by the pancreas and helps glucose enter the cells.
There are two types of diabetes:
Type 1: the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin. Kids and teens who have type 1 diabetes must take insulin as part of their treatment. Insulin is the only medicine that can control their blood sugar levels.
Type 2: the pancreas makes insulin, but the body cannot respond to it properly (this is called insulin resistance). Most people who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight, since extra body fat causes insulin resistance. Most people with type 2 diabetes do not need to take insulin, but may take a pill to help control blood sugar.
Having too much or too little sugar in the blood makes a person feel sick. Blood sugars can be checked with a blood glucose monitoring system. People with diabetes must check their blood sugar levels regularly throughout the day. Diabetes can be managed through medicine, diet, and exercise.
Students with diabetes may:
need to go to the school nurse and monitor blood sugar levels several times a day
need to take insulin or wear an insulin pump
need to drink from a water bottle in class and use the bathroom frequently
need to eat lunch and snacks at a certain time, and eat snacks in class
have symptoms of high or low blood sugar. Low blood sugar symptoms include hunger, shakiness, dizziness, headache, irritability, and confusion. High blood sugar symptoms include thirst, frequent urination, nausea or vomiting, rapid breathing, fruity breath, and confusion.
Because bullies often target students who seem "different," certain health conditions, including diabetes, can put kids and teens at higher risk of being bullied.
What Teachers Can Do
Students with diabetes may miss class time or be absent due to doctor visits and hospital stays. Your students with diabetes may need special consideration regarding missed instruction, assignments, and testing.
People with diabetes can exercise and play sports at the same level as anyone else. Regular exercise is an important part of diabetes management. You may want to remind students to check their blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise and to keep a snack handy.
Learn to recognize the symptoms of high and low blood sugar. Keep extra snacks, juices, and emergency supplies in the classroom in case your student starts to have symptoms of low blood sugar.
Make sure your students with diabetes have diabetes management plans and be prepared to respond in the event of an emergency in accordance with the plan.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 26, 2016