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A Back-to-College Checklist for the Diabetic Student

By Rebecca Price

You’ve taken your final high school exam, turned your tassel, group hugged to the beat of Vitamin C’s “Graduation,” and are just now starting to realize how expensive college textbooks are. Welcome to life after high school. Whether you’re going out-of-state or moving to the next town, college life is radically different than your world at home. And if you have an autoimmune disease like type 1 or type 2 diabetes, transitioning to dorm life can be particularly tricky.

Fortunately, you can actually get grants and scholarships for having a health disability. In fact, the College Diabetes Network has a list of scholarships that you can apply for if you are a student with type 1 diabetes.

According to an article on care.diabetesjournal.org entitled, “Preparing Students With Diabetes for Life at College,” diabetics may have a particularly hard time away from home. They advise diabetic students to remember their basic tools, such as their blood glucose meter, monitoring strips, alcohol wipes, insulin syringes (or pump), and insulin. “Many will forget items that they can easily find at home (e.g., sharps container) or may not have considered (e.g., urine ketone test strips),” the article warned. “Other items to pack include ready sources of glucose (such as small cans of juice and glucose tablets), glucose gel, Medic Alert identification, a copy of important contact phone numbers, and their insurance card.”

The article also strongly suggests that diabetic college students make a medical kit to take to school with them. They detailed that the things in this kit should be: “a thermometer, nonperishable bland foods and liquids (such as Jell-O, Saltines, broth-based soups, juice, and sugar-free beverages), ketone strips, approved over-the-counter medications (including sugar-free cough drops, etc.), and a copy of their sick-day plan.”

It’s also important to anticipate situations before they happen. For instance, what do most college students consume? In short, they eat a bunch of crap. Pizza, cheap beer, late-night McDonald’s runs, and soda are just the tip of the iceberg. If you can’t consume these unhealthy college staples, have a mini fridge in your dorm room stocked with appropriate snacks.

According to ABC News, alcohol is especially dangerous for diabetics, because it “can cause blood sugar levels to drop dramatically, while sugary mixers can raise glucose to unhealthy levels.” It would be best if diabetics didn’t drink alcohol at all, but since most college students do, please remember to drink responsibly and to wait until you are at least 21.

And what about eating in the cafeteria? The main thing is to know your body and what you can and can’t eat. Stacey Snelling, associate professor of education at American University, said in the ABC News article that it’s difficult, because “everything looks good in the cafeteria. … Pizza is a fine food [and] it’s not so problematic if you balance it out with other foods.” So, in short, moderation is key.

Above all else, the essential thing to remember is that you can’t cope with diabetes alone. Luckily, there are hundreds of Facebook groups and external websites dedicated to giving diabetes support. Diabetic Connect is one such group, as is Diabetes Care, and the American Diabetes Association, who all have Facebook groups. And make sure to reach out and find other students at your college with diabetes, and offer them some support, too.

For more information, check out this PDF at diabetes.org. Also, check out the above video from bbyrne4 on YouTube.


Rebecca Price–Autoimmune Ally

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About Author

Born a North Carolinian, Rebecca Price moved to Papua New Guinea when she was 3 and lived on a Wycliffe Bible Translators center there until she graduated high school in 2010. Now a rising senior at Asbury University, Rebecca is a double major in creative writing and journalism with a minor in Spanish. Rebecca is the Executive Editor of her student newspaper, the Asbury Collegian, and a writing tutor at the Center for Academic Excellence. She has had some wonderful experiences during her time at Asbury, including reporting at the London 2012 Olympics through the NBC-affiliate LEX-18. She enjoys bunnies, coffee and AP Style.

View all Rebecca Price posts.

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