Diabetes and Your Family

By Venus Coates

Every day, many children nationwide are diagnosed with diabetes. This condition impacts not only the affected child, but also the entire family unit. This article addresses some of the day-to-day challenges of managing diabetes.

( *This article is not intended to address the medical aspects of diabetes management, as that is the responsibility of your diabetes management team.)

Adjusting to Life with Diabetes

Being diagnosed with diabetes is like losing a family member. Similar to when there is a death in the family, there is a grieving period that must be observed following a child’s diabetes diagnoses. As parents, it is important to be patient, understanding, and supportive while your child goes through this process. Grieving will allow you and your child to move past the fear, anger, disappointment, and depression that diabetes brings. Proper diabetes management requires strength, dedication, and attention to detail, neither of which are possible while living in a state of denial. Completing the grieving process is the first step toward effective diabetes management.

Sibling Issues

Feelings of fear, jealousy, and resentment are common among siblings of a diabetic child. It is important that parents take the time to address the fears and concerns of other children in the family. Some children worry they will catch diabetes from their sister or brother, while others think diabetes is a form of punishment and worry that they will become diabetic if they misbehave. Taking the time to explain what diabetes is, how it develops, and how it is managed will dispel these fears.

Establishing a workable home diabetes management process requires a large amount of time. During this time, other siblings may feel left out or unloved. Setting aside time to spend with each child in the family can go a long way toward preventing these negative feelings.

Diabetes and the Family Diet

There is no question that the family diet must be adjusted when a child is diagnosed with diabetes. It is also helpful if everyone in the family follows the same diet. Serving separate meals may cause a diabetic child feel different in his or her own home.

Food affects blood glucose levels so much that scientists developed the Glycemic Index to help with diabetics’ food selection. The Glycemic Index ranks individual foods based on how they react in the body. Some foods cause sudden or extreme increases in blood glucose levels, while others have a less dramatic effect. Using the Glycemic Index will help you to help you select healthy foods while avoiding items that may have a negative affect on your child. For example, foods like spinach, eggplant, bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, coyote squash and Portobello mushrooms have little to no affect on blood glucose levels. Foods high in starch like rice, potatoes, and corn tend to raise blood glucose levels quickly and should be limited to less than 1/2 cup per serving. Proper eating habits are not only good for diabetics; they can help the entire family stay healthy.

Visiting Your Local Grocer

With the recent increase in cases of diabetes, several food companies have begun to sell food for diabetics. These companies use keywords and phrases to attract your business. Food names and store locations are two methods of getting you the purchase their product. Don’t be fooled by these marketing practices, foods found in the diabetes section of a grocery store are often no better than those found in any other section. Reading the labels is always the best way to make your selection. For example, my daughter loves Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. When we compared these with cookies marketed for diabetics, we found the following: 4 of the regular Famous Amos cookies contain about 20 grams of carbohydrates per serving, 3 Murray Sugar Free Chocolate Chip Hard Cookies also have about 20 carbohydrates per serving. Given the data, there was not a medical reason to make any changes; she could still eat her favorite cookie. There are literally hundreds of marketing programs designed to influence your buying habits. Learning to read and understand product labels is the most effective method of selecting foods that nourish the body.


The bread section of the grocery store is another area where the product name can impact your selection. Never make a bread choice based solely on the product name. “Wheat” breads are often a mixture of enriched white flour and whole wheat flour, A true “whole wheat” bread will be made from 100% whole wheat and have whole wheat listed as the first ingredient.

For a child with diabetes, there are many reasons to eat 100% whole wheat bread. Whole wheat breads usually have more vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, folic acid, copper, zinc, and manganese than white bread. Wheat bread is also a great way to satisfy your child’s hunger without adding too many calories. 100% whole wheat bread is high in fiber. The body does not absorb fiber, so the number of calories consumed from a high fiber meal are lower. This in turn helps reduce the possibility of weight gain, making 100% whole wheat bread a great choice.

Here are a few resources to help you plan your diet:

Licensed dieticians



Adjusting to life with diabetes is a challenge. But by working together and using the numerous available resources, life will continue to be joy-filled for the whole family.

Venus R. Coates, the owner of Asclepius and Fitness for Kids, is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor for overweight and diabetic children. She is also the mother of a 14 year old with Type 1 Diabetes. Contact her by email at [email protected]  or by phone at 703.577.9452

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