For Parents
Diabetes and young athletes: What you must know

Diabetes and young athletes: What you must know


By Greg Bach

With new diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes increasing among today’s youth it has become more important than ever for parents to better understand this disease and what role sports participation plays in carving out healthy lifestyles for their children.  

We caught up with Dr. Sheri R. Colberg, who partnered with the American Diabetes Association to write Diabetes & Keeping Fit For Dummies®, to find out if children with diabetes can participate in sports and what parents and youth coaches need to know.

Colberg is professor emerita of exercise science from Old Dominion University and an internationally recognized diabetes motion expert. She is also the author of 12 books and was honored with the 2016 American Diabetes Association Outstanding Educator in Diabetes Award. Check out what she had to say:

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Can children with diabetes safely participate in sports?

COLBERG: It is very possible to do and, in fact, for all sorts of developmental reasons it is important for kids with diabetes to be active, whether it’s type 1 or type 2. The tricky thing is just to manage the blood-glucose during any activity. With kids who have type 1 they have to use the tools at their disposal to be able to balance out their food intake with how much insulin is in their system. Most kids who have type 2 are often put on insulin as well, and they will have some of the same problems. If they don’t know that they can adjust the insulin, or should adjust the insulin, when they are going to exercise or be more active, they can also develop low blood glucose. One of the biggest things that keeps adults with type 1 from participating in sports and exercising is the fear of developing hypoglycemia or low blood glucose. So just learning how to manage that is really important.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is a common misunderstanding parents have regarding kids, sports and diabetes?

COLBERG: In kids who are newly diagnosed I’ve heard a lot of horror stories where the parents were told their kids shouldn’t participate in sports and activities anymore. It is surmountable. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about diabetes in general, where they think the only problem is that you just can’t eat sugar – if only it were that easy. I’ve worked with a lot of athletes with diabetes and they all tell me if their blood glucose is out of whack – too high or too low in either direction – they just don’t perform like they normally do. So, if kids want to do their best they really have to work on management and then worry about preventing lows after exercise – they don’t just occur during exercise – they can occur up to 48 hours afterward. And that’s something people may not be aware of at all.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Are certain sports better for kids with diabetes?

COLBERG: It’s really whatever is fun for them. I know athletes who play every sport across the spectrum who have diabetes. Any sport that the child is willing to participate in is a good sport and in terms of managing it you just have to figure out what to do for each sport.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should parents of children with diabetes talk to the coach before the season and explain the situation?

COLBERG: It is important that the coach is aware that the child has diabetes, but it doesn’t mean that he or she would be responsible for the care during the activity. The more the coach knows about some symptoms to look for the better, such as if a child starts getting low and doesn’t realize it and gets unexpectedly fatigued, or just starts underperforming and doesn’t look quite right, the coach should know enough to say ‘hey, do you have your meter? Can you check to see what you are?’ Just for the awareness factor, it’s always a good thing for someone else to know what symptoms to look out for so if there is any time where the coach feels he needs to contact the parent and say, ‘Junior just wasn’t looking good at practice today; maybe it’s diabetes related.’

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is exercise even more important for individuals with diabetes?

COLBERG: Honestly, the research indicates that yes, it is. It’s more critical for someone who is trying to manage a chronic condition that can potentially result in enough complications over time to develop cardiovascular disease, heart disease or stroke. If you are physically active you are less likely to develop these conditions and since people with diabetes are at much higher risk for these it is essential to be active.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should parents be afraid to get a child with diabetes involved in sports?

COLBERG: It’s just one more variable to factor in, but life is a variable; puberty is another variable, just like lack of sleep on any given day and stress over a test. There are so many things that can impact blood glucose. You just have to figure out how it impacts the activity that you are doing and you just go from there. I don’t see it as any more difficult than figuring out the other basics in life that affect your blood glucose.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can parents motivate kids to be active and lead healthy lifestyles?

COLBERG: I think for kids and adults alike it’s making sure that the activities are fun and so you choose things that you really enjoy, or find satisfaction in doing – that’s the only way you’re going to continue to do it over an extended period of time. So, with younger kids you want to get them involved with trying a variety of team sports and physical activities.

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is one message you hope people take away from your book?

COLBERG: Not only is it entirely possible to be physically active if you have diabetes, it really should be your excuse to be active. You have to schedule 30 minutes a day to be active. Everyone else can blow it off if they don’t feel like exercising that day, but for the sake of your health and your diabetes you really need to do it, so you make it a priority.

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