May 20, 2021
Over 1 million children and adolescents under the age of 20 are living with type 1 diabetes (1). Type 2 diabetes is also increasingly prevalent in childhood and has the potential to become a global public health issue, due to increasing levels of overweight and obesity, driven by physical inactivity and unhealthy diets (2).
The school environment helps shape a child’s education and behaviours. It therefore has an important role to play in raising diabetes awareness and promoting physical activity and healthy diets to tackle the rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes (3).
COVID-19 has given this role further emphasis. Despite the lack of data on the long-term impact of the pandemic on children and youth, current research indicates that it may have worsened existing insufficient levels of physical activity among children and adolescents, due to prolonged school closures and home confinement (4-11). Recreational screen time and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages also appear to have increased along with rates of food insecurity in children (5-12,6-13,7-14). These are linked to a higher risk of weight gain and obesity (8-15).
For many children living with diabetes and their families, lack of diabetes awareness is the primary issue they face in the school environment. Management of type 1 diabetes involves daily insulin injections, regular blood glucose self-monitoring and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. This can be challenging and cause emotional and physical distress at all ages – particularly in children and adolescents. Multiple daily injections, for example, can be perceived negatively by people who do not have a good understanding of diabetes. This can lead to discrimination and stigma, which has been linked to decreased school attendance and can have a life-long impact on a child’s education and future growth (9).