Unique diabetes sports and activity program helping active youth manage diabetes

The Christensen Family Diabetes Sports & Activity Program is the only program of its kind nationally focused on helping active children and young adults manage diabetes on and off the playing field.

The Christensen Family Diabetes Sports & Activity Program is the only program of its kind nationally focused on helping active children and young adults manage diabetes on and off the playing field.

Activity is one of the big variables during the day causing fluctuations in blood glucose levels, and everyone is different. You can’t put everyone in the same box. This is diabetes management individualized to that person.

Available only for patients of Norton Children’s Endocrinology, the program is free and provides education and monitoring for children and young adults ages 6 to 26 who participate in sports or physical activities at any level. The goal is for everyone with diabetes to be able to maximize their health and performance through the same level of care that professional athletes with diabetes receive.

We’re not a training facility. We’re just trying to give patients the tools and resources for better fitness in whatever sport or activity they’re trying to do.

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To do that, patients participating in the program first sit down with a diabetes educator and an exercise physiologist to gather data about their level of physical activity, nutrition and insulin regimens before and after physical activity.

Patients typically receive a Fitbit to track their activity for at least three days and are asked to keep a log of food, insulin and blood glucose levels on days when they are more active and less active. Athletes who are competing are asked to submit data for at least one day of competition and one day of practice.

“We have seen game-day stress play a significant role in glucose response,” said Tim McKay, M.S., research exercise physiologist for the Christensen Family Diabetes Sports & Activity Program.

“Based on what their interest is and what their goals are, we also do fitness testing in our sports lab,” Tim said. “We want to look at how their body responds to different energy systems.”

Athletes undergo tests that mimic the physical requirements of their sport, with blood glucose levels measured before and after the test. For example, a football lineman will be asked to perform tests using bursts of strength, while a wide receiver might do bursts of speed. Soccer players or cross-country runners do a full VO2 max (maximal oxygen consumption) cardiorespiratory test on a treadmill.

In the past, some parents shied away from letting their children play sports, worried that they wouldn’t be able to manage their diabetes.

Sports teach so much. We learn leadership skills, how to play on a team, how to lose graciously, how to win graciously. We want our kids participating in sports so they can learn these life skills.

In addition to helping children and young adults remain active and perform at the highest level, the Christensen Family Diabetes Sports & Activity Program also conducts research on diabetes management in young athletes.

There are 50-plus variables that affect blood glucose levels. Activity is one of the bigger variables. We want to expand our knowledge base so we can better manage children and young adults with diabetes.

Bradly J. Thrasher, D.O., Pediatric Endocrinologist, is the director of the Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program and assistant professor of pediatrics at the UofL School of Medicine.

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