Students with diabetes more likely to struggle academically


We see them every day. They sit in class and walk around campus, often unrecognized. They have perfected the art of discretion when it comes to checking their blood sugar, taking their insulin shots or oral medication.

Linda Yarrow, assistant professor of human nutrition, dietician and certified diabetes educator, estimated that the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes on the K-State campus has nearly doubled over the last 10 years.

“Type 2 has increased because of an increase in insulin resistance, which is linked with obesity,” Yarrow said. “The rise of Type 2 diabetes is reflective of the rise in the obesity rate.”

According to the American Diabetes Association about 26 million Americans have diabetes. About seven million of those have never even been officially diagnosed.

A recent study conducted by Yale University, published Jan. 9 in the journal of Health Affairs, stated that diabetes rates are rapidly rising and those with diabetes are more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to attend college and will earn approximately $160,000 less in a lifetime.

“The epidemic of pre-diabetes and diabetes is the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, bar none,” said Dr. Deneen Vojta, chief clinical office for the United Health Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance and author of the study mentioned above.

This study followed approximately 15,000 individuals with diabetes, but did not distinguish between the two types of the disease. Type 1 is commonly thought of as juvenile diabetes, which requires different treatment than Type 2 diabetes, which is preventable and is associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

“One of our most important findings was the large increases in high school drop outs associated with growing up with diabetes versus not,” said Jason Fletcher, lead author of the study and an associate professor at Yale’s School of Public Health. “This just points to the early effects of diabetes. It’s a very severe consequence and it happens early – 17-, 18-year-olds who are dropping out of high school and they have a whole life of consequences associated with that.”

One reason researchers say diabetics are earning less and are overall not as successful is because diabetics have much higher rates of absence from work and school.

Upon hearing of the results of this study, Yarrow was eager to discuss some of the major issues that students with diabetes face when transitioning from a high school to a college lifestyle.

“Schedule changes are one of the main difficulties for students with diabetes. It is very important for them to have a consistent meal schedule so they can accurately monitor their insulin-to-food ratio,” Yarrow said. “Activity levels will also change; even something as insignificant as walking across campus to reach class can have an effect on the amount of medication that a student might need.”

Yarrow also said that students’ support systems are an important factor in how successful diabetic students will be in a college atmosphere.

“They go from having a stable support system of family, friends, a dietician, school nurse and administration in high school to college, where they will have to be very proactive in seeking new people to support them,” Yarrow said.

Even a regular experience for most incoming freshmen can be more difficult for someone with diabetes. Yarrow said that it is important that a student with diabetes communicate with their future roommates ahead of time to find out if they are comfortable living with someone who is diabetic.

“They need to be comfortable living together and they need to recognize the signs and symptoms of highs and lows and be instructed on how to help treat those emergency lows,” Yarrow said.

For diabetic students living in the dorms, Yarrow suggested talking with resident assistants, residence hall managers and dining centers to get all necessary information.

“Students will need to take the initiative to find out nutritional information for dining centers,” Yarrow said. “There are dieticians on staff who can help with planning meals and carbohydrate counting.”

Rachel Trumpy, senior in biological engineering, is a K-State student who has known the life of a diabetic since she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 9. Trumpy said she has to take certain measures to ensure her blood sugar level remains stable.

“I carry glucose tabs, juice boxes and other snacks on campus to help treat low blood sugars,” Trumpy said.

According to Yarrow, most people do not realize that diabetics can eat any of the food that those without diabetes enjoy, but doing so might require a larger dosage of medication or a bigger injection of insulin.

“They can drink regular soda if they wish — it means more insulin and we don’t nutritionally recommend doing so all of the time, but that’s their choice,” Yarrow said.

Trumpy said alcohol consumption is something that she has to be very careful about because of the high sugar levels, and she actually had a diabetic friend pass away from drinking excessively.

For those with diabetes, there are several campus resources to be aware of, including Disability Support Services.

Yarrow said that diabetes can interfere with class schedules and assignments, and working with Disability Support Services can alleviate some of the stress of students living with diabetes. Yarrow also mentioned that Lafene Health Center has certified diabetes educators on staff for those with questions or who are just being diagnosed with the disease. Mercy Regional Health Center also has a diabetes education program, classes and several support groups for diabetics and those who help care for them.

“K-State doesn’t have a student support group for those with diabetes, but we encourage students to try and find each other for support,” Yarrow said. “There is a movement across the U.S. to start university diabetes support groups.”

Trumpy said the support that she received as a child from her experiences at a Texas summer camp designed for the needs of diabetic children has helped her connect with other diabetics and has helped her bond with others in similar situations.

Although she has faced numerous challenges in both her academic and personal life, Trumpy said being diabetic is something that she has learned to live with.

“I’ve lived with diabetes so long that I’m used to it. It doesn’t control my life,” Trumpy said. “Some people have asthma, some have ADHD, I have diabetes.”