Type 1 Diabetes May Not Hurt School Performance

In the United States and around the world, there’s widespread concern that having Type 1 diabetes may interfere with how some children learn or perform in school.

But according to the results of a new study, some of those fears may be unfounded. In fact, many children with Type 1 diabetes appear to perform better on certain tests than their peers without the condition.

But as the study makes clear, there’s reason to fear that among children with diabetes, those with less than ideal blood glucose control won’t perform as well.

No harmful effect on test scores from diabetes alone

Published in February 2019 in the journal JAMA, the study looked at scores on standardized tests among over 630,000 schoolchildren in Denmark.

The sample included children from the 2nd to the 8th grade, with an average age of just over 10. The researchers combined math and reading scores from the standardized test to come up with a composite score.

Out of the entire group of children, 2,031 had a confirmed diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. Once the researchers adjusted for a number of differences between the Type 1 group and the rest of the children — including their distribution across grade levels and socioeconomic status — they found no significant difference in test scores between children with Type 1 diabetes and those without it.

Blood glucose still an important factor

The story changed, though, once the researchers factored HbA1c level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) into their calculations.

Among children with diabetes, the researchers saw a relationship between lower HbA1c and better test scores. In fact, children with diabetes with an HbA1c level below 7.5 percent had slightly better test scores than those without diabetes.

Those with an HbA1c above 8.6 percent, on the other hand, had significantly worse test scores than children without diabetes.

The researchers speculated that a couple of factors might account for the superior test scores of children with diabetes who had an HbA1c level below 7.5 percent.

One is that these children’s parents give them extra attention and resources because of their diabetes, compared with parents of other children. Another is that the skills needed to maintain good blood glucose control also translate to studying for and taking tests.

Regardless of the factors behind the good test scores in some children with diabetes, the researchers caution that their overall findings might not apply to other countries — such as the United States — due to the excellent medical and social care in Denmark, by international standards.

Further studies in the United States could, of course, demonstrate how well children with Type 1 diabetes perform in school relative to their peers, and what factors might account for their performance.

Want to learn more about kids and diabetes? Read “Diabetes at School: Finding the Best Written Care Plan for Your Child,” “Top 10 Tips for Better Blood Glucose Control,” and “Managing Type 1 Diabetes in College.”

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