Diabetes Myths – Did you know

Mom and daughter happy.

There’s a lot of misinformation with respect to the causes of diabetes and how to live with diabetes. It’s clear that we have a lot of educating to do to help patients and to help family members understand how to be a good support team. Diabetes, in its many forms, is a complex disease.

There are many myths that make it difficult for people to understand the hard facts about diabetes—such as, it is a serious and potentially deadly disease affecting nearly 30 million Americans.
Diabetes threatens those we love. It is lived—and battled—every day by real people and families. It is treated by knowledgeable and caring doctors, nurses, diabetes educators and other health care professionals. Scientific researchers dedicate their careers to improving diabetes treatments and finding a cure.

Type 1 Diabetes

Let’s start with some fundamental fact-checking.
Type 1 diabetes is an unpreventable, life-threatening autoimmune disease for which there currently is no cure.

Woman injecting insulin using syringe, close-up of hands

In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. It was formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 is caused by genetics and unknown environmental factors that trigger its onset. Just to survive, people with type 1 must take multiple injections of insulin daily or continually infuse insulin with a pump. Multiple blood glucose checks and healthful eating and regular physical activity are also part of everyday treatment.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for about 95 percent of cases. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly, called insulin resistance, and may not make enough insulin. Type 2 is influenced by genetics, family history, age and inactivity. Being overweight is a major risk factor for developing type 2, but it’s important to remember that most overweight people never develop type 2, and many people with it are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight. Type 2 is treated with healthy eating, physical activity, oral medications and sometimes insulin or other injectables. There is no cure for type 2 either, though it can often be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and healthful eating.

To sugar or not to sugar…

Diabetes is NOT directly caused by eating too much sugar. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes, but this is far from a cause-and-effect, and it is not the only factor. A diet high in excess calories from any source contributes to weight gain, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major source of those extra, empty calories. The American Diabetes Association specifically recommends that people avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent type 2 diabetes. These beverages include regular soda, sweet tea and fruit drinks. This would explain the myth that people with diabetes cannot eat sweets.

Sweets aren’t completely of limits. However if eaten in moderation as part of a healthy meal plan or combined with exercise, people with diabetes can have sugar. Practicing moderation is a health behavior for all, whether you have diabetes or not. For diabetics, there are times when sugar is a must: If your blood glucose level drops too low, food and drink containing rapidly absorbed carbohydrate is essential for treating dangerous hypoglycemia.

Let’s talk about it.

We need a constructive national dialogue about the rise of diabetes and its impact on our country. We face devastating diseases that affect millions of people young and old and of all races, shapes and sizes. Diabetes dictates how they organize their day, what they eat at every meal, how they choose to be physically active and even how they spend their money. Together diabetes and prediabetes cost our country $322 billion a year. This impact can also be measured in blindness, amputation, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and other complications. We believe that resources spent discussing diabetes would be better spent on raising awareness about all types of diabetes and funding and conducting research to help us uncover new answers and to ultimately find a cure.

In the face of the hard facts and statistics, diabetes is best fought with knowledge and compassion. There is no “good” type of diabetes. There is no “bad” person with diabetes. Let’s stay informed and do our best to support our loved ones through empowering them and empowering ourselves with knowledge.

Your Rights, One Voice: Mason’s Story

As a parent, you want the best for your child, from health care to home life to education. Raising a child with type 1 diabetes can make the stakes higher—even when everything is going well. But how do you react when a necessary part of your child’s life keeps him from success? That’s the situation Mason Stevens’ parents found themselves in when Mason’s school refused to provide him with a 504 Plan.

Some background: 504 Plans outline medical care and other accommodations that students with disabilities might need in the school setting. These plans ensure that students covered receive appropriate accommodations while at school, as well as equal treatment and access to school-related programs, trips and extracurricular activities. Under federal law, diabetes meets the definition of a disability, so public school students who live with diabetes, like Mason, should have a 504 Plan in place.

Nicole and Michael Stevens of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, approached Donegal Primary School to request a 504 Plan for Mason, who uses an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor, when he was in kindergarten. Rather than providing a 504 Plan, the school developed an Individualized Health Plan (IHP), which didn’t outline parameters or arrange extra time for education support for Mason based on his medical disability.

“It appeared the school wasn’t educated on how diabetes impacts a student’s ability to focus and learn, or how quickly blood sugar levels can change in a five-year-old,” Nicole said. “When we asked for a 504 Plan, we were told the school did not recognize diabetes as a disability and he did not qualify.”

Mason’s parents had also secured a private duty nurse to monitor Mason while at school to make sure his blood glucose levels remained stable. Unfortunately, the school began to rely a bit too much on the nurse rather than providing the extra support he truly needed.

Having only an IHP kept Mason from educational success on multiple occasions. For example, at one point, high blood glucose levels prevented Mason from being able to concentrate during a math test—to the point that he couldn’t complete it. This resulted in his teacher marking each incomplete answer as wrong. If Mason had had a 504 Plan in place, he potentially could have waited to take the test until his blood glucose levels came down.

This negative impact was even noted by Mason’s teacher. Report cards showed progress, but the teacher said that Mason’s challenges were prohibiting him from reaching his full educational potential.

Nicole and Michael knew that Mason needed more than an IHP, but the school stated that Pennsylvania state law required him to undergo a psychological evaluation to qualify for a 504 Plan. Nicole had read that this wasn’t the case (per federal law), and she turned to our Legal Advocacy program for help.

“At first, we trusted the school to follow the federal and state laws. So initially, we accepted the original plan of the IHP. However, as Mason progressed in kindergarten and we asked for amendments, we started to see that the IHP was not enough to ensure his education and Mason’s physical health was not being managed appropriately,” Nicole noted.

Our Legal Advocacy department confirmed that Mason was eligible for a 504 Plan and connected Nicole and Michael with Philadelphia attorney Alan L. Yatvin, who serves on our national Board of Directors and has significant experience with legal issues involving students with diabetes. With support from our Legal Advocacy team, Yatvin worked with the Stevens family as they negotiated a 504 Plan, making sure the school recognized its necessity—not an easy process.

“The school did not ‘embrace’ the 504 Plan,” Nicole noted. “The initial planning was awkward and uncomfortable.”

Finally, at the end of Mason’s kindergarten year, a 504 Plan was signed and took effect. With the plan in place, the Stevens family continues to work with the school to make sure Mason’s needs are being met.

According to Nicole, “Mason is [now] in first grade and is doing well—he likes school and excels in academics. The 504 Plan was a huge step in the right direction for us.”

There is still work to be done, such as a need for additional training and resources—for example, the Stevens family still relies on the private duty nurse to assist during the school day. But Nicole believes progress is being made: “We see small improvements with new staff at the school, and his teacher has been a great support. As Mason grows and can manage more on his own, we feel his needs can be fully met by the school in a few years.”

Thanks to the work of our Legal Advocacy team and Alan Yatvin, Mason’s family now hopes that he will enjoy the full, equal education experience that he deserves.

“It wasn’t until we connected with the Association’s Legal Advocacy program that we felt confident [that we had the] additional resources and staff to help us push forward to obtain what Mason was entitled to. It assured he would receive a fair and appropriate education regardless of his medical condition,” Nicole said. “Alana [our Legal Advocate] was the spearhead we needed and valued to get what our son needed and deserved as a child with diabetes.”


The American Diabetes Association leads the effort to prevent and eliminate discrimination against people with diabetes at school, at work and in other parts of daily life. If you need help, call 1-800-DIABETES or visit diabetes.org/gethelp.

Through our nationwide Safe at School® program, the Association is dedicated to making sure that all children with diabetes are medically safe at school and have the same educational opportunities as their peers. Visit our Safe at School website for information and resources.

 

Originally posted here on the ADA blog.

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