York sports camp offers support for diabetic youth in Ontario

A summer sports camp at York University is teaching kids how to manage their diabetes, while offering researchers an opportunity to study the interaction between physical activity and the disease.

The two-week camp, which kicked off Monday, gives youth with Type 1 diabetes a chance to build skills in basketball, soccer, tennis and track & field, while outfitted with 24-7 glucose monitors. Researchers will use the real-time data to show participants when and why their blood sugar levels fluctuate, and offer strategies to help. Campers, who range in age from eight to 16, will even be monitored as they sleep.

The camp was developed in partnership with the Diabetes Hope Foundation, which helps families struggling with the financial and emotional challenges of children with diabetes, and Medtronic of Canada Ltd. Medtronic provides glucose monitoring devices for the camp.

Michael Riddell “Diabetes and physical fitness – particularly participation in competitive sports – can be difficult to reconcile,” says Michael Riddell (left), professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health. Riddell, who started the camp in 2008, was diagnosed with the disease at age 14 and regularly engages in competitive sports. He says that parents of diabetics often have concerns about whether vigorous physical activity is safe.

“The message we want to get across is that exercise is beneficial and safe – provided kids and parents have the information they need. Moreover, we’ve found that if their condition is managed properly, kids can compete on par with their non-diabetic peers,” he says.

Regular exercise is known to be beneficial for people with diabetes, but can make glycemic control challenging. This balance is even more difficult to achieve in adolescents, as insulin requirements are influenced by fluctuating nutritional intake, physical activity levels and the rhythms of other anti-insulin hormones. Adding to the confusion is that the symptoms of low or high blood glucose are often masked by exercise because they’re so similar: increased heart rate, sweating, shakiness, fatigue and dehydration.

The Diabetes Hope Foundation has a long history of supporting specialized camps for children and youth with diabetes, notes Barbara Pasternak, the foundation’s chair and founder.

“This new partnership with Dr. Riddell’s camp and Medtronic is a natural fit for the foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children and youth living with diabetes,” Pasternak says.

Through the support of the foundation, campers will have access to counsellors trained to work with youth with diabetes as well as daily transportation to and from the camp. In addition, the foundation is sponsoring youth from low-income families so they are able to attend.

The Diabetes Summer Sports Camp is part of York’s Physical Activity and Diabetes (PAD) community awareness initiative.