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Diabetes in Children: Food Issues at School

British Columbia Specific Information

Parents and schools are encouraged to work together when making provisions for, or accommodating, students with diabetes; however this is not a requirement. If parents and the school administrators can come to an agreement, then school personnel may take responsibility for helping students with diabetes during the school day. Visit Government of British Columbia – Diabetes for information on the support available at schools.

The Canadian Diabetes Association is a charitable association that provides information and support to all Canadians. They recommend that schools should allow students to eat at regular intervals, should monitor students experiencing hypoglycemia, and should know what to do during a hypoglycemic emergency. Medical support such as checking blood glucose levels, testing urine or administering insulin should not be expected unless agreed to by parents and the school administration. For more information, visit the Canadian Diabetes Association – Kids with Diabetes at School web page.

You may also call 8-1-1 to speak to a registered dietitian, Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Email a HealthLinkBC Dietitian, or review our Healthy Eating – Diabetes and Hypoglycemia information.

Topic Overview

New challenges emerge when your child with diabetes begins school. Starting a good communication system with key people at the school can help make this transition a smooth one. It's helpful to schedule a conference with school personnel—principal, teachers, coaches, bus driver, school nurse, and lunchroom workers—after your child is first diagnosed. Do this again at the beginning of each school year.

Your child needs to always have available the supplies for doing a blood sugar test. If possible, the school nurse will have these supplies available also.

Food issues

Snacks, school lunches, and party food are issues that need to be addressed before your child starts school.

If your child takes insulin, his or her teacher needs to understand why snacks are so important. Explain how snacks prevent low blood sugar. Teachers should know that snacks should never be withheld or delayed. Provide details on when your child needs snacks—for example, during the day and either before, during, or after exercise.

Your child can have regular school lunches. If there are many items to choose from, your child needs to understand the meal plan thoroughly to make the best choices. Ask to be informed in advance if meals will be delayed because of special school activities, such as parties or trips, so that your child's insulin or snack schedule can be adjusted accordingly to prevent a low blood sugar episode.

Treatment plan

A treatment plan should list:

  • When blood sugar should be checked and insulin given.
  • When meals and snacks should be given.
  • Preferred snack and party foods.
  • Your child's usual symptoms of low and high blood sugar (hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia).
  • Preferred treatment for hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia and when to notify parents.
  • Emergency contact numbers, including parents and health professionals.

The plan should specify how your child's needs are taken care of and which member of the school staff is responsible for implementing the plan. Your child may need an emergency glucagon shot if he or she is having an episode of low blood sugar. Because of this, the school must select a person in advance to give the glucagon. Your child can then have treatment without delay.

A diabetes educator can help you make a treatment plan for your child. Update the plan each school year.

Preventing hypoglycemia

For children who take insulin, low blood sugar can result from additional exercise or not enough food, as well as from too much insulin. Have your child carry some glucose or sucrose tablets or solution at all times in case of a low blood sugar episode. If glucose or sucrose tablets or solution are not available, a quick-acting source of carbohydrate can be used.

Make sure your child can identify and treat symptoms of low blood sugar, or ask a teacher for help. Also, have your child carry snack foods, such as pretzels, snack crackers, or a sandwich, to cover unplanned activity or delayed meals. It's a good idea to ask your child's teacher to keep one or more of these items in his or her desk.

Credits

Current as of:
August 31, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Stephen LaFranchi MD - Pediatrics, Pediatric Endocrinology
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian