Young people and children with type 1 diabetes can be particularly vulnerable to developing disordered eating behaviours or eating disorders. But at the moment we don’t understand enough about preventing eating problems in people with diabetes. Dr Christina Jones will test out an intervention designed to help parents and carers recognise signs of unhealthy eating behaviours and provide support to their children. In the future, it could lead to better care and support across the UK for young people and children with diabetes at risk of disordered eating.
Background to research
We know that children and young people with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop unhealthy eating behaviours, like fasting and binge eating, as well as eating disorders, like diabulimia. It’s thought this could be linked with some aspects of managing type 1, including counting carbohydrates and closely monitoring food intake.
As well as having a serious impact on mental health, disordered eating in people with type 1 can lead to high blood sugar levels and increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening. It also increases the risk of developing longer-term diabetes complications. So it’s vital to spot the warning signs early and get people the support they need as soon as possible.
Researchers have found previously that group sessions with parents or carers of children with eating disorders are an effective way to support recovery. Dr Christina Jones will test whether this approach could also be used to help to prevent disordered eating from developing in children and young people with type 1 diabetes.
Dr Jones will run a small, feasibility study to explore the experiences of 70 parents taking part in an intervention, involving group sessions and online training, designed to prevent eating disorders in children and young people with type 1 diabetes.
The aim is to find out if this type of intervention is helpful and how it might be better tailored to families’ needs. The results will inform the design of a larger study to test how effective this type of approach is at preventing the development of disordered eating or eating disorders in young people and children with type 1 diabetes.
Potential benefit to people with diabetes
Eating problems can seriously damage mental and physical health. But we know support for people with diabetes at risk of experiencing eating problems is a huge gap in diabetes care. This kick-off study could help to change that and is an essential step in the development of an effective and widely available intervention to help young people with type 1 diabetes avoid disordered eating, and the huge impact this can have on their health and wellbeing.