Diabetes and Childhood Eating Disorders

Children diagnosed with diabetes might find it hard not to obsess over food. With restrictions on carbohydrates and doses of insulin which can affect appetite, children with diabetes may find it hard to think about anything but food.

A new study finds that there are connections between childhood diabetics and eating disorders. Dr Deborah Young-Hyman, a pediatric psychologist in the Medical College of Georgia’ Georgia Prevention Institute and colleagues at Emory and Harvard universities led the study that showed that childhood diabetics are at an increased risk for developing eating disorders.

The next step for the researchers, says Young-Hyman is to determine whether the disease is causing the eating disorders, or the treatment that is prescribed to young diabetics. The new study will be funded by the American Diabetes Association.

The treatment for diabetics includes some obsessive food behaviors, such as avoiding carbohydrates, says Young-Hyman. The researchers want to know whether those behaviors contribute to an eating disorder, or if there are certain physiological mechanisms related to diabetes that make it hard for children to control their eating behaviors.

Both diabetes and disordered eating make it difficult to maintain a steady level of blood sugar.

The new study will involve 90 children between the ages of 10 and 17. The children will be newly diagnosed with diabetes or newly transitioning to an insulin pump. The researchers will assess treatment patterns, weight, psychological adjustment and attitudes about weight and eating.

In addition, the researchers will be closely watching patterns in eating among the child diabetics and blood sugar levels and how they are responding the insulin.

There will also be a questionnaire issued to both children and parents that will ask them about eating behaviors and psychological adjustment in light of their disease and treatment, including measures of parental attitudes, family factors, personality of the child and parents and perceived societal attitudes.

The researchers suspect that the use of insulin may be a big factor in eating disorders for childhood diabetics. Large amounts of insulin can trigger severe hunger, which may be misunderstood as an eating disorder symptom.

The researchers believe that the study may provide motivation for implementing more emphasis on healthy eating over food restriction or dieting to control weight. They hope to show that childhood diabetics will be healthier if they can have positive treatment experiences without the adoption of weight management strategies.


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