By Sarah Blenner, JD, MPH
Approximately one out of every 300-400 high school-aged children has diabetes and 151,000 youth under the age of 20 have diabetes. A person with diabetes must carefully balance food, insulin, and activity levels to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range. Yet girls with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop an eating disorder or engage in disordered eating behaviors than their peers. To address this issue, the IIT Center for Diabetes Research and Policy conducted training sessions across the Chicagoland area during National Women’s Health Week.
Have you watched at least an hour of T.V. this week? Do you read a celebrity magazine on a regular basis? Ever compare yourself to a model you saw on T.V. or in a magazine? Well, you’re not alone. Here are some shocking facts: The average US resident sees or hears at least 5,000 advertising messages a day. One study suggests that adolescent girls get their information about women’s health solely from the media. What does this mean for an adolescent’s body image? Magazines are laden with advertisements about weight loss and models that are well below a healthy body weight. Researchers believe that children develop a perception of their body image by the age of 6.
Negative perceptions of body image may lead to an eating disorder or engagement in disordered eating behaviors. But, there is no one source or cause of an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex and are influenced by genetics, personality traits, culture, trauma, and other factors. While all students may experience issues relating to body image, it is important to consider how body image may affect children with chronic health conditions, such as children with diabetes. For example, Girls with type 1 diabetes are actually more likely to develop an eating disorder or engage in disordered eating behaviors than their peers.
Approximately one out of every 300-400 high school-aged children has diabetes and 151,000 youth under the age of 20 have diabetes. A person with diabetes must carefully balance food, insulin, and activity levels to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range. Stress, illness, and puberty can also affect blood glucose levels. Diabetes must be managed 24/7—It never takes a break.
The CDC estimates that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, because of the complications associated with diabetes (such as heart disease, eye disease, and kidney disease). Keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal now will help prevent or delay the onset of these complications. But, strict control of blood glucose levels using insulin therapy has its side effects, such as weight gain. If properly managing diabetes by administering insulin and controlling blood glucose levels leads to weight gain, and if eating and food play a central role in diabetes management, what can a person with diabetes do to lose weight? Unfortunately, the answer is too simple. Without insulin, the body cannot turn food into energy, causing weight loss. By not taking insulin (or adequate amounts of insulin), girls with diabetes can lose weight quickly. Kaytee tells her story on Dr. Phil—once she lost fourteen pounds over the course of three days. Even behaviors such as occasional insulin omission can have serious implications on future health outcomes.
Student health is a strong predictor of academic performance—students who are happy, healthy, and well-nourished perform better in school. What can educators do to help students? Because school officials spend a majority of the day with their students, they are in a unique position to identify warning signs of eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors. Educators are well situated to help prevent eating disorders from developing, encourage healthy eating and healthy body image, promote positive self-esteem, and create a classroom environment that is sensitive to the needs of students with chronic health conditions, mental health conditions, and eating disorders. Additionally, under the Illinois Care of Students with Diabetes Act, volunteer non-nurse school employees can also be trained to help a student manage her diabetes during the school day. However, it is important to note that most educators are not health professionals and the treatment, diagnosis, and counseling should be done by a licensed health professional.
As part of National Women’s Health Week (May 13-19, 2012), IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law through the IIT Center for Diabetes Research and Policy developed and conducted six FREDD: First Response to Eating Disorders and Diabetes training sessions across the Chicagoland area. The FREDD workshops raised awareness of diabetes and related eating disorders. Almost three hundred educators were trained and provided with resources to help foster a safe environment for students with diabetes and students who may be at risk for developing an eating disorder.
Editor’s Note/Disclaimer: Funding for this project was made possible in part by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health. The views expressed in written materials or publications and by speakers and moderators at HHS co-sponsored conferences, do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.