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Kids with diabetes: Tips to help manage the disease

Are you the parent of a child with diabetes? If so, you know how challenging – sometimes downright discouraging – it can be to help your child understand and manage the disease. We turned to Dr. Calvin Hobel, co-principal investigator of the National Children’s Study, to get a greater understanding of pediatric diabetes and ways parents can best care for their children.

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Q&A with Dr. Calvin Hobel about kids with diabetes

In addition to his participation in the National Children’s Study, Dr. Calvin Hobel is the Miriam Jacobs Chair in Maternal Fetal Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine, and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the General Clinical Research Center. He is also a member of the March of Dimes Scientific Advisory Board and the director of the Center for Women and Infant Research at Cedars-Sinai.

SheKnows: How does diabetes impact a child’s life now and into adulthood?

Dr. Calvin Hobel: The risk of diabetes is associated with elevated blood sugar levels. A combination of being overweight plus elevated blood sugars damages blood vessels, leading to a greater risk of hypertension. People who are obese have increased levels of inflammatory markers that also damage blood vessels. Being overweight with hypertension and diabetes leads to a significantly greater risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

SheKnows: What factors are putting our children at risk of the disease?

Dr. Hobel: There are three conditions that contribute to a greater risk of disease.

  1. Some people have a family history of disease, probably related to the genes that they inherit from their parents or grandparents.
  2. Environmental conditions such as smog (air pollution) chemical/toxins, smoking (secondhand), insufficient sunlight (decreased vitamin D production) and radiation can increase the risk of diabetes.
  3. Behaviors learned or practiced by families such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise, along with stress, also contribute to risk of developing diseases.

The National Children’s Study is a long-term study that will assess the roles of genetics, environment and behavior, and their contribution to the development of adult diseases, including diabetes, that actually begin during pregnancy and continue to develop during infancy, childhood and adolescence.

SheKnows: What can parents do to help their children who have diabetes manage their condition?

Dr. Hobel: Children who have diabetes need their parents to take responsibility for their healthy living. To do so, parents can help their children control their blood sugar level and keep it in a normal range to prevent damage to their blood vessels.

Part of the control of blood sugars is dietary supervision and proper insulin use 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Parents need to ensure that their children avoid large meals and focus on six smaller feedings a day (breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, snack before bedtime).

Avoiding obesity is very important, so parents should help their children stay at a healthy weight or lose weight by diet and exercise. Exercise is crucial in the control of blood sugar. Get your kids moving.

SheKnows: How can parents foster a positive attitude about diabetes in their children with diabetes?

Dr. Hobel: An important part of early life as a child is parental guidance in maintaining health. This is accomplished through parents providing access to health care, education about the importance of healthy living, daily supervision of healthy behaviors such as adequate education, supporting good habits and encouraging appropriate activity or exercise. The negative approach is for parents to foster the notion that diabetes is a “life sentence.” Parents must take a positive approach and promote healthy living habits that help children develop disease management skills.

More on diabetes

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