Does Diabetes Camp Really “Work”?

Every summer, thousands of children with type 1 diabetes attend summer camps designed just for them. They might find themselves swimming, canoeing, or making crafts, just like at traditional summer camp. But diabetes camps provide the extra benefit of a safe setting for blood sugar management and an opportunity for campers to make friends with other kids just like themselves. Sessions may last only a few short weeks, but results from a new survey conducted by the American Diabetes Association show just how positive and lasting the diabetes camp experience can be when it comes to how kids view themselves—and their diabetes.

The goal of the American Diabetes Association’s survey, conducted over a three-year period, was to better understand how the organization’s camp programs serve children and families. “Association diabetes camps have been around for nearly 70 years. And while we have known that our work has been important and life-changing to so many, we had never documented or tracked that success in a meaningful way,” said Jane Chiang, M.D., American Diabetes Association senior vice president of medical and community affairs.

The survey relied on information provided by parents and camp workers and also included responses from the campers themselves. “We wanted to capture the thoughts of youth attending camp, not just their parents,” Chiang noted. Questions looked into three key areas:

  • Does camp make kids feel more independent or confident in managing their diabetes?
  • Do kids who go to camp feel better able to handle emotional stress related to their diabetes?
  • Do newly diagnosed children benefit from camp the same way that returning campers do?

“The information we collected tells us what we knew all along,” said Chiang: “Camps have a significant impact on the children who attend in the key areas of diabetes management, management behaviors, confidence, and kids’ emotional well-being.”

A few highlights of the survey’s findings:

Knowledge

Kids’ overall knowledge of proper diabetes management increased after camp. More children came home knowledgeable about figuring out their correct insulin dose and about counting carbohydrates.

Troubleshooting

Children’s ability to independently manage problems related to diabetes management also increased after camp. Among newly diagnosed campers (that is, kids who attended camp less than a year after diagnosis), 19 percent showed improvement in their overall ability to manage diabetes-related problems.

Self-Confidence

After attending camp, the number of children who indicated feeling confident about managing their diabetes rose, with the greatest improvements noted among newly diagnosed campers. More children felt confident trying new ways of managing their diabetes following camp.

Stress

Campers on average experienced a decrease in anger and a decrease in sadness related to their diabetes.

“Camp is a special place and an important experience for children living with type 1 diabetes,” Chiang noted. “And it’s exciting to now have data that confirms that camp is having a big impact on these children’s lives. Kids living with type 1 should know that diabetes camp is where you go to make lifelong friends and memories, and you’ll probably learn something new that helps you better manage your diabetes.”

The American Diabetes Association hosts 58 day and overnight camp sessions in 25 states throughout the summer, serving nearly 6,000 children every year. “Camp is often the place where a child with diabetes learns diabetes care tasks for the first time,” Chiang noted. “A child might count carbs or inject or administer his own insulin for the first time at camp. Every child is coached through these new tasks by trained medical professionals, and every effort is celebrated.”

At heart, however, diabetes camp is like any other camp—a place where kids play and have fun and try new things. According to Chiang, “The only difference is that these camps are designed specifically to help these kids feel normal again. Diabetes doesn’t rule the kids; they rule their diabetes.”

To learn more about the survey and American Diabetes Association camps, including information on scholarships and how you can get involved with providing more children the ability to attend camp, check out the details and new video at diabetes.org/camp.

 

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.

 

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