17 November 2004
The dietary management of childhood diabetes is complex. Is it possible to educate young people to balance carbohydrate with their insulin? Can dietary knowledge be translated into lasting behaviour change? Do present teaching methods provide the skills necessary for children and parents to adjust their insulin therapy adequately? Evidence shows great variation in glycaemic control between centres and countries but the impact of dietary education methods is poorly evaluated and its links with clinical and psychosocial outcomes is virtually unknown. There is also little evidence to suggest cohesive teamworking with clear dietary targets for glycaemic control, lipids, incidence of hypoglycaemia, compliance, effect on peer and sibling relationships, and evaluation of individual dietary components, e.g. fibre, fat, antioxidants. There is wide variation in methods of dietary education, which are often based on historic practice. They include rigid counting of grams of carbohydrate, carbohydrate portion assessments, qualitative diets, low glycaemic index diets and the more recent ‘intensified’ carbohydrate measures with daily adjustments of insulin (the basis also of pump management). This last method has many benefits although it requires extensive nutrition education, it allows greater flexibility and variety of food intake, is sensitive to the varying daily energy expenditure of childhood and it addresses postprandial glycaemic excursions, all of which are inadequately managed by conventional therapy. However, one of the problems of overemphasizing carbohydrate measurement is that total carbohydrate intake may be suppressed, with a resulting increase in fat, this may contribute to an increase in cardiovascular risk. The ISPAD Consensus Guidelines 2000 contain dietary recommendations but scientific evidence is often lacking. Limited dietary studies show that some countries can meet guidelines more successfully than others. There are many reasons for this, such as food availability, types of food eaten, food preferences and family/cultural/religious influences. Educational methods must be adapted to local customs. Is there enough evidence to recommend a particular dietary education method? What outcomes do we hope to achieve? The workshop explored these issues in order to develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of dietary modification in childhood diabetes.