As we face a global increase of diabetes in children, learn more about the disease, how to recognise type 1 and what you can do to help manage it.
As the risk of diabetes in kids increases around the world, it’s a good idea to know how to identify the disease and support any child dealing with it. Here’s some helpful information:
- What is diabetes?
Our digestion process breaks down carbohydrates into sugars which enter our bloodstream. A hormone called insulin, then allows our cells to absorb and store that sugar. In someone with diabetes, this absorption process doesn’t work properly and their levels of blood sugar rise dangerously high. There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes is usually when a body’s immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, and the body no longer produces or doesn’t produce enough insulin. It’s not clear what causes type 1 diabetes and there’s no known way to prevent it.
- Type 2 diabetes is when the body either becomes resistant to insulin or the pancreas stops making enough, and this type is linked to excess body fat and inactivity. It can be prevented by using diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
- Signs a child may have type 1 diabetes
Get your child tested for diabetes if any of the following symptoms develop quickly over some weeks:
- Very thirsty and frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Tired and lethargic
- Blurred vision
- Very hungry
- Irritability and changes in behaviour
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Yeast infections
- Dealing with type 1 diabetes
Your doctor will prescribe the essential medical treatment but there are also lifestyle changes to make. Ongoing blood sugar monitoring is extremely important as well as a healthy diet and enough exercise. Amanda Weber, a Registered Dietician based in Somerset West, shares how to manage type 1 diabetes through diet:
‘The diabetic diet is high in fibre, low GI, balanced and nutritious. It’s a way of eating that’s hugely beneficial for the whole family so make it a family plan. It consists of three meals and two to three snacks daily which don’t contain refined carbohydrates, but rather nutritious low GI carbohydrates like sweet potato, legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.
It’s going to be a learning process for you and your family: food choices can be tricky for example potato has a high GI, while sweet potato a low GI. It’s important to know that 100% fruit juice (with no added sugar) is still very high in sugar and should be avoided. Luckily with products like xylitol and stevia, sweetening food without the risk of spiking blood glucose is relatively easy.’
- Danger signs
It’s important that you, and any child with diabetes can recognise the signs of hypoglycaemia (dangerously low blood sugar) and hyperglycaemia (dangerously high blood sugar), and know what to do:
- Hypoglycaemia: numb lips and tongue, pale complexion, sweating, shakiness, headaches and irritability. What to do: give the child something sugary to eat and then monitor the child’s blood sugar levels.
- Hyperglycaemia: shortness of breath, dry mouth, increased thirst, nausea and blurred vision. What to do: check the child’s blood sugar if possible and if needed, give medication as per the doctor’s instructions.
Whether you’re focused on managing diabetes with your child or supporting your child’s friend, there’s never been a better reason to make sure your home is full of healthy food, enthusiasm for exercise and knowledge about this disease.