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May 18, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

What to Know About Type 1 Diabetes in Kids

More than 806,000 people live with diabetes in Tennessee, many of them children. Here’s a look at what it’s like for a child to live with Type I.

The power of positive thinking is vitally important for moms of kids with Type I diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes.

“It’s important to me for Omar to feel like nothing is wrong with him,” says Spring Hill mom Heidi Elbarky. “I think he’s capable of everything, and I don’t think having diabetes should hold him back, even though he knows he has to do things a little bit differently.”
Elbarky’s positivity is the key to the daily regiment that living with diabetes entails for she and her son.

“If we’re at the grocery store and Omar wants a cookie, he can have it, but he knows it has to be deducted from what’s left of his carb budget for the rest of the day.”


Carb budgeting is all about counting carbohydrates one consumes. Here’s an important note: for diabetics, a carb is a carb is a carb. Whether they’re coming from a healthy piece of fruit or a candy bar, the way they process into blood sugar is the same.

Healthy eating is the vital component of controlling diabetes, and carbohydrates are necessary for fueling the body and brain, but consuming too many of them boosts blood sugar too high. That doesn’t mean a child can’t have a cookie or enjoy a small piece of cake once in a while — but extra carbs have to be counted into a day’s allotment (different for every child depending on age, weight, etc.).

Omar checks his own blood sugar by pricking his finger, but instead of being on a pump, he takes shots. His parents administer them (or the nurse at school) and they rotate locations between his arms, legs and backside to reduce the build up of scar tissue. The shots take place after meals — that’s why counting carbs matters: to know how much insulin is needed.

“We have to administer a half unit of insulin for every 15 grams of carbs,” says Elbarky. And it doesn’t take a lot to constitute 15 grams. A small, four-ounce banana equals 15 grams, as does one slice of wheat bread or one-third cup of cooked rice or pasta.


Typically, children are diagnosed with Type 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control. With Type 1, the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, the hormone necessary to convert sugars (carbohydrates/starches) into the energy needed to exist, primarily where brain function matters. In order to compensate, Type 1 diabetics either have to take a few rounds of insulin injections every day or wear an insulin pump, which is about the size of a deck of cards, attached to the body, administering a steady dose of insulin throughout the day. Type 1 diabetics who use a pump have to change it out every three days to a different location. There is no absolute way to prevent Type 1 in children.

“The bottom line is that there is no substantiated intervention that prevents or delays diabetes at present,” says Daniel Moore, M.D., Ph.D., in the Department of Pediatrics at the Ian Burr Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes at Vanderbilt. Moore says studies show there is increased risk of diabetes in children whose mothers experience gestational diabetes while pregnant.

Genetics play a predominant role in Type 1; there is usually an inherited predisposition to the disease. For instance, if a child’s mother or father has diabetes, there’s a greater chance he will get it. In the case of kids who develop Type 2 — which typically happens in kids during the ‘tween and early teen years — a lot points toward eating and activity habits.

Because blood sugar that drops too low can be extremely dangerous, Type 1 kids have to check their glucose levels several times a day: in the morning before breakfast (after a nighttime fast), before and after each meal, and before bedtime. If there’s physical activity in the mix, then again before that takes place (it’s important to know how many carbs to consume prior to any form of exercise in order to keep levels in a healthy range since physical activity reduces blood sugar).

Every three months, diabetic kids see their doctor for blood and urine tests to make sure everything’s OK. The good news is children who learn to manage their diabetes lead normal lives; there is nothing about it that should cause a child to be limited in any way.

“Take care of yourself,” Elbarky says. “Have the right resources, good doctors and the appropriate tools so you control it — not it controlling you.”


The American Diabetes Association offers lots of info about living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes along with resources for parents and for children. The local Middle Tennessee chapter is located at 220 Great Circle Road, Ste. 134, Nashville, TN 37228. Call 615-298-3066 or visit


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