May 12, 2006

Families face barriers to managing kids’ diabetes

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK -- Parents of teenagers with type 2 diabetes feel they face a range of obstacles to helping their kids take care of their health, a study has found.

In discussions with 27 parents of diabetic teenagers, researchers found that parents often struggled to get their kids to eat right, check their blood sugar or think about the long-term health consequences of their condition.

Parents also cited a number of other obstacles, including less-than-ideal food choices and a lack of exercise at school, and their teenagers' resistance to letting their classmates know they had the disease. Some parents said their children were teased, sometimes because of their weight.

Type 2 diabetes is closely related to obesity, and it is more common among African-American and Hispanic adults and children compared with whites. The fact that many children with type 2 diabetes may be from lower-income families presents another barrier to managing the disease, according to Dr. Shelagh A. Mulvaney, the study's lead author.

She and her colleagues at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, report the findings in the journal Diabetes Care.

Parents who feel overwhelmed by their children's diabetes can take a number of steps to help their kids and themselves, Mulvaney told Reuters Health.

First, she said, parents should maintain a healthy lifestyle themselves, to reduce the risk of "burnout and stress." This benefits their children as well, Mulvaney noted, by giving them a role model to follow.

Other family members can help too, particularly if they have diabetes themselves. If they are following a healthy lifestyle and managing their disease well, Mulvaney said, they can be a positive influence on teens.

Parents should bring any concerns about their child's diabetes to a professional health provider, Mulvaney said, but they can also find support and advice from other parents with diabetic children. Some diabetes clinics have ongoing support groups for parents and kids, she noted.

SOURCE: Diabetes Care, May 2006.