There are about 2,500 children and youth aged 0-18 living with Type 1 diabetes in New Zealand and over 200 with Type 2.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of paediatric diabetes in the world, and numbers are estimated to be growing at 10% annually. The cause is not yet understood.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented or cured. It is an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system destroys its own insulin-producing cells. It is a condition that has been documented for centuries, and it can occur in babies as young as six weeks old and in young adults in their 20s or even later, although the most common age of diagnosis is among school-age children.
Prior to the discovery of insulin, Type 1 diabetes was fatal. Ironically, the insulin injections that keep these young people alive can also be fatal if the wrong dose is given. Insulin injections must be given at least twice to four times daily, and the dose calculated each time on the basis of the youth’s blood sugar levels, appetite and expected level of exercise. Blood tests must be undertaken up to six or more times per day to manage the condition properly so the youth remains healthy. Managing type 1 diabetes requires constant attention to balancing a good diet and exercise with the insulin injections required to replace the insulin the body is unable to produce. The management routine is stressful and relentless, and it can lead to medical complications in later years if not followed rigorously.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes has a different genetic basis from Type 1 and its onset can be accelerated by lifestyle factors. The diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes in children is a new and worrying trend. Once diagnosed, the condition must also be managed carefully and a healthy lifestyle adopted to avoid later complications.
With the right support, young people with diabetes grow up learning to take remarkable responsibility for their health and well-being, but they need the support of their families, schools and wider community around them.
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