In the years since he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, 11-year-old Justin has grown used to well-meaning questions about what he can and can’t eat. “Sometimes people ask ‘Are you sure you should have birthday cake?’ or ‘Are you allowed to drink soda?’ and I just tell them it’s fine,” he says.
Kimberly Chisholm, Ph.D., vice president of research at the Bay Area chapter of the JDRF in San Francisco, is also accustomed to deflecting misconceptions. When her 14-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago, many people expressed their surprise. “They’d say, ‘But he’s not fat. He’s so fit.’ They didn’t realize that type 1 has nothing to do with being overweight or out of shape,” she says.
If public perceptions haven’t kept pace with what we’ve learned about type 1 diabetes over the past several decades, perhaps that’s because the advances are so staggering. “We’re in an era now where we can prevent or greatly reduce the occurrence of complications by managing blood sugar, and we’ve seen new treatments and new tools that are much more helpful in mimicking how blood sugar works in the body,” says Lori Laffel, M.D., chair of the American Diabetes Association Youth Strategies Committee and associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, “They have made a huge difference in quality of life for people with type 1 diabetes.” Today, a child with type 1 diabetes can do virtually anything that a child without it can do.
To help your child do just that, print out the following primer on the reality behind five common type 1 diabetes myths and hand it out to after-school program instructors, new friends’ parents, or anyone else in your child’s life who could use an update.
The Facts About Type 1 Diabetes
Myth: You get type 1 diabetes from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Fact: People with type 1 diabetes didn’t do anything wrong. Doctors believe the cause of the disease is a combination of genetics and some external environmental trigger (but not junk food or lack of exercise). When one identical twin contracts type 1 diabetes, there’s only a one-in-three chance that the other twin will also get it.
Myth: People with type 1 diabetes can’t eat sugary foods.
Fact: No foods are off-limits to people with type 1 diabetes, including sweets and chocolate. Just like anyone else, a person with type 1 diabetes should follow a healthy meal plan that incorporates proteins, whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables. Desserts and treats are allowed in moderation.
Myth: People with type 1 diabetes can’t play strenuous sports.
Fact: Physical activity is an important component of a healthy lifestyle for everyone, including children with type 1 diabetes. Numerous world-class athletes and Olympians have type 1 diabetes.
Myth: Type 1 diabetes is a children’s disease.
Fact: It hasn’t been called “juvenile diabetes” for more than two decades, because type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age, and one doesn’t outgrow it. In fact, more than half of people with type 1 diabetes are over 18.
Myth: Type 1 diabetes is contagious.
Fact: Type 1 diabetes is not an infectious disease. Although doctors don’t know exactly why people develop type 1 diabetes, it cannot be “caught” from another person like a cold or flu.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.