Myths and Facts About Type 1 Diabetes in Children

Mary Kate Cary recounts the tales you’ve heard again and again—and explains the real story.

Myth: Children with diabetes should not eat anything with sugar in it.

Fact: This was true years ago, before carb counting was invented. But times have changed, and it’s not sugar we’re worried about as much as fat and cholesterol.

Children with diabetes can eat sugar—we just count it as a carb and give the proper amount of insulin to cover it. Of course, too much sugar isn’t good for anyone—with or without diabetes. But because children with type 1 diabetes are at high risk for heart and vascular problems in the long term, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their fat and cholesterol intake. Our nutritionist, for example, recommends three grams of fat for every 100 calories in our daughter’s snacks. You may want to check with a nutritionist about what’s best for your child.

Myth: My child will not be able to play on a sports team because of her diabetes.

Fact: As long as your child checks his or her blood sugar level before playing sports, there isn’t any reason he or she can’t play. If they are low, they need to stabilize their blood sugar before exercising; if they’re fine, they should drink plenty of fluids and continue to check periodically throughout their workout. Of course, they should always have a source of sugar with them at all times, in case their blood sugar drops. Many people with type 1 diabetes have not only excelled in sports, but have become world-class athletes—such as Olympic gold medal swimmer Gary Hall Jr.; professional baseball player Jason Johnson; and professional hockey player Mark Helprin, to name only a few.

Myth: My daughter will not be able to have children because of her diabetes.

Fact: Until only a few years ago, most people thought this was true. Today, many adult women with type 1 diabetes are able to have children—they just have to keep their blood sugar levels under extremely tight control. This is hard work, especially with the cravings and erratic eating habits that can come with pregnancy. But many women with diabetes have had healthy children, thanks to their commitment and their doctors’ expertise.

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