Tips for helping your child manage weight and type 1 diabetes

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Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA

Living with diabetes comes with its fair share of challenges, but it can be especially tricky for children — and their parents or caregivers — to manage the condition. Amid their daily activities and growing appetites, one aspect that must always be kept top of mind is the balance between weight and type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Fortunately, by modeling a healthy lifestyle, you can help your child manage their diabetes when worries arise about exercise and fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Helping your child establish a system of close monitoring — where they know that help is available when needed — can help them feel confident about exercising and participating in social activities. Creating a plan for exercise- or weight-related changes in blood sugar can also prevent unexpected situations.

Here's what to know about the basics of weight management with T1D, the benefits of exercise, and the activities that can keep children (of all ages) healthy and happy.

Basics for managing weight and type 1 diabetes

You can help your child learn to manage blood sugar and exercise by checking their glucose levels before and after such activities, as well as the next morning, to establish a pattern for managing insulin needs. Making healthy, balanced meals at home is also a regular part of ensuring your child's diet supports managing blood sugar and insulin.

To get the whole family involved in planning healthy meals, consider creating a weekly or monthly meal calendar. Each person can have the opportunity to select a dish, add to the grocery list, and prepare the meal. A variety of cookbooks and online resources like the CDC's recipe book for people with diabetes can serve as the source for meal selection.

Finally, if your child participates in any extracurricular activities, touch base with the organizers to discuss their individual needs. Together, you can establish a diabetes emergency plan with the coach or group leader, ensuring everyone will know what to do should an issue arise. Keep in mind that it's generally a good idea for anyone with diabetes to wear a medical ID bracelet. A medical ID can give you (and your child) the peace of mind that emergency personnel will take the appropriate steps if a blood sugar emergency occurs.

Prioritizing exercise and balancing diabetes

The simple activity of walking improves mood, boosts energy, reduces stress, strengthens the body, and reduces the likelihood of other health complications. Prioritizing daily exercise can reduce hours spent in sedentary activities. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health confirmed that children with T1D spend an average of 73% of their daily time in sedentary behaviors, spending much of their days sitting and lying down.

In other research, the National Institutes of Health translated the health benefits of walking with the number of steps taken per day. The recommended daily steps for adults is 10,000 a day. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a minimum of one hour of exercise per day for school-age children and adolescents, those ages 6 through 17.

The best way for children to engage in daily physical activity is to make the activities fun. But you should exercise some caution — children who are physically active and those who participate in sports are typically at a higher risk for injuries. Teach your child to complete skin checks after activities to identify scratches or scrapes that may need attention.

Fun activities for preschoolers (ages 3 to 5)

Activities for preschool children, who are usually between the ages of 3 and 5, include walking, running, kicking, and climbing. Children tend to be very active during these years and can learn to ride a tricycle and swim with parental supervision. They can also have fun using playground equipment like swings and slides.

Other activities that can be made fun and establish positive habits include taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking rather than driving when distances are short. Many child-friendly businesses offer "Parent & Me" classes that include yoga, art, music, and other creative classes for families that also support socialization. These classes offer a great opportunity for children to learn how to play with others — especially other kids with diabetes — establish friendships and build self-esteem. You can search for opportunities in your area or even join virtual sessions online.

Engaging exercises for school-age children (ages 6 to 12)

School-age children have a broader opportunity to participate in activities, sports, and other games. Much of the activity for these children should be aerobic with some muscle and bone-strengthening exercises. While organized sports are an excellent opportunity to learn teamwork skills, daily practice sessions and weekly games should be supplemented by an hour of physical activity on non-game days.

Parents can also include children in regularly planned activities, such as after-dinner walks or bicycle rides. Weekend outings can include hiking, camping, lake activities like paddle boarding or canoeing in the summer or wintertime snowshoeing and skiing. Parental support can also be provided to encourage children to participate in community service groups that build-self-esteem. These include organizations like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, as well as newer groups like Navigators USA and Camp Fire.

Sports and social activities for teens (ages 13 to 17)

Aside from all of the activities listed above, teens may become interested in individual sports like karate, kickboxing, golf, tennis, swimming, hiking, and other activities. They might also enjoy participating in team sports at a competitive level — like football, baseball, softball, soccer, or basketball — through their school or local recreation center.

At this age, parents can begin introducing kids to activities that are charitable, vocation, or business-related. Bringing your teenager along to help provide meals to those in need, participate in home remodeling projects in low-income neighborhoods, or walk dogs at an animal shelter offers the opportunity for rewarding activity and exposure to local needs. Additionally, social events sponsored by a local chamber of commerce, church, or a trade association can help teens identify potential career interests.

Reducing worry about diabetes and exercise

If your child continues to worry about managing blood sugar levels and exercise, consider talking to their doctor about using a continuous glucose monitor. Children who play sports or enjoy spending time outside can benefit from this technology as it reduces downtime for checking blood sugar levels and managing insulin. They can anticipate their needs before an activity — and treat a glucose event before it derails their day.

Looking for more information about supporting your child with diabetes? Check out the Health Insights blog for more articles for T1D parents and caregivers.

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA

Pamela D. Wilson has helped families and caregivers manage chronic diseases, including diabetes, for more than 20 years. Wilson’s experience as a court-appointed guardian, a medical power of attorney, and a care manager encourages individuals to take an active role in managing complex care situations and to participate in caregiver education and support programs.

Website link: https://www.PamelaDWilson.com https://www.linkedin.com/in/pameladwilsoncaregiverexpert/ https://www.facebook.com/pameladwilson.page https://twitter.com/CaregivingSpeak https://www.instagram.com/wilsonpamelad/ https://vimeo.com/pameladwilson https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCalTVtkM3KRnbp2OP3kw4IA https://channelstore.roku.com/details/283189/details/283189/caregiving-tv

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