Party Like It’s World Diabetes Day!

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity ScienceServ

sarah-howardUsually, “diabetes” and “party” are never mentioned in the same sentence. The reasons are obvious: diabetes is a horrible, life-changing and life-threatening diagnosis. More than 400 million adults worldwide have diabetes, and more than half a million children under 15 have type 1 diabetes. One in seven infants worldwide are exposed to their mother’s high glucose levels in the womb. (Source: IDF Diabetes Atlas, 2015).

In addition, international scientists are now researching the role of environmental chemical exposures in diabetes. Convincing laboratory and epidemiological evidence has been published suggesting that exposure to “metabolic disrupting” chemicals may contribute to the development of diabetes in later life, especially if the exposure occurred early in life. (Source: Heindel et al. Parma Consensus Statement on Metabolic Disruptors. 2015.)

But if you have lived with diabetes, you are probably up to your ears in statistics and studies. Every now and then you need a break. And so, we celebrate World Diabetes Day every year on November 14, to honor the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, the man credited with discovering insulin and saving millions of lives. In 2016, this day also happened to be the 10-year anniversary of my son Teddy’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis. So clearly, it was time to party!

I have never acknowledged Teddy’s diagnosis day (or “diaversary”) in any way before, although many people do something special for their child on that day. We decided to host a surprise party for him, which would really be a surprise since he did not even know his diagnosis date, and would not be suspected anything. I had a lot of fun thinking of party ideas during the week prior, which was a welcome change from the daily grind of type 1 diabetes management.

We invited two of Teddy’s friends who have type 1 diabetes along with their families, as well as few of his closest friends and their parents—who are my reliable babysitters. Part of the purpose was to thank these babysitters, who have watched him at their house — even at sleepovers– allowing him to feel like a normal kid. We had everyone over for dinner at our house. One family babysat Teddy for the few hours prior to the party so we could set up the house and surprise him. He was indeed surprised! After dinner, we started in on the fun!

Show the diabetes piñata how you really feel

blog11-14-16shdiabetesdaydropofbloodWho loves having diabetes? No one. What better way to express your true feelings about diabetes than to whack a diabetes piñata. How can you make a piñata that represents diabetes? Well, what is diabetes? High blood sugar. So I made a paper mache piñata in the shape of blood drop (which just happens to be the same shape as a balloon), color it red, and fill it with candy. Easy! Plus, it’s a great way to get rid of Halloween leftovers!

Guess how many

IMG_20161114_085207.jpgAnyone with diabetes likely has a lot of diabetes-related things lying around. Cabinets full of things. I put some of these things in clear containers, and everyone guessed how many items were in each jar. Winners received either a “low blood sugar treatment kit” (i.e., candy) or a “high blood sugar snack kit” (i.e., cheese). I actually did count the number of syringes, lancets, pen needles, and used insulin pump batteries—all things that we happened to have lying around in abundance. I did not count the numbers of used needles (too dangerous) or used test strips (too gross), but picked random winners. And then there was the jar of empty Halloween candy wrappers. I had asked, “How many carbs?” We called it a tie, since one kid wrote “0” (“because there are no carbs in the wrappers,” which is technically correct), and one who wrote “100,000” (because that was the closest to my answer, “too many”).

Where’s the alarm?

Wait, do you hear that? What’s that alarm? Is someone high? Is someone low? Is someone’s pump out of insulin? Is there a low battery? There’s an alarm going off somewhere in the house, quick, find it! (It was my alarm clock, set to go off at a random time in the middle of the party).

Tour the diabetes museum

I have had type 1 diabetes for 17 years, and my son has had it for 10. We have a lot of old supplies gathering dust in the basement. I put them in shoeboxes on display, and even my son enjoyed looking at these things he did not even remember—like the junior insulin pen he used when he was 1 year old. He has been on a pump so long he didn’t even know what an insulin pen looked like. We had his old pumps too—you never know when these things will come in handy. In fact, it is because of these supplies that my husband has been able to make us artificial pancreases, which require the use of old pumps. (We also had his “Artificial Pancreas Lab” on display in the museum.)

What do you get someone with diabetes?

Blog11.14.16SHDiabetesDayPancreas.jpgWe got him a new pancreas. The fuzzy, stuffed kind that are available on Amazon. He slept cuddling it last night. He also learned what a pancreas looks like, apparently he had thought it was round. One friend with diabetes made him a booklet of hilarious Diabetes Memes that only those with diabetes could fully understand. My favorite gift, however, was presented by another friend, who made a shield and holy grail out of aluminum (since the 10 year anniversary is tin/aluminum). He then knighted Teddy and read this proclamation:

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!
Be it thus noted that Sir Theodore Howard
Has these yon 10 years passed
Fought the good fight against
The dread diabetes type 1

May he be successful
In his continued valiant efforts
To banish the dread diabetes
With the holy grail of diabetes cures
So that over the next 10 years
We may yet again gather to celebrate
The vanquished foe

We dub thee Sir Teddy
And his heroic knights of the Howard table

Time to celebrate

With cake, decorated to look like a continuous glucose monitor. The cake says his blood sugar is 40 and going down rapidly, meaning it must be time to eat cake! But of course it has to be accompanied by ice cream, since you want some fat and protein to balance out those carbs.

And then it was over. We had a couple of low blood sugars during the course of party, and presumably a couple of highs as well, considering four of the attendees had type 1 diabetes and a lot of carbs were consumed. But we all survived. To help ensure that we keep surviving, we gave out expired glucagon kits as party favors, so our friends could practice using them. With their help, and the help of scientists studying diabetes around the globe, we are not just surviving, but partying as well.

11.29.16CallDiabetesCDC.jpgIn fact, two of my favorite diabetes scientists, Dr. Mary Turyk and Dr. Robert Sargis, will be speaking on a CHE call on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 10 am PST/ 1 pm EST. They will discuss their research on Chemical Contributors to Type 2 Diabetes. Please join us! And thank you to everyone around the world, including friends, family, researchers, advocates, and all who help make this disease more bearable. If you could all fit in my house, I’d have you over for cake and ice cream as well.

Your Health: Lead at Home

image of a child running tap waterWith substantial media focus on the tap water situation in Flint, Michigan, and beyond in the last few weeks, many people are concerned about lead levels in their tap water. This concern is well founded, for lead has devastating impacts on our health, and especially on children’s health. There is no amount of lead exposure that is considered safe for children—even the smallest exposures can impact health.

What does lead do? From CHE’s Practice Prevention column on lead:

High levels of lead in children can lead to anemia, stomach and kidney problems, muscle weakness, brain damage and ultimately death. Even very low levels of exposure can affect a child’s mental and physical growth. Studies have linked elevated blood-lead levels in children with reduced intelligence, slowed mental development, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, increased risk for delinquency and criminal behavior, heightened risk of obesity and delayed onset of puberty.

Lead at home can lurk in several places:

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Tip of the Month: Watch Out for Disinfectant Wipes!

written by Alex Scranton
Director of Science & Research, Women’s Voices for the Earth

Excerpted with permission of the author.

image of a wipes label instructing users to wash hands after useDisinfectant chemicals called quaternary ammonium compounds “quats”, commonly found in wipes are especially problematic. These chemicals are skin irritants, can irritate your lungs, and have been linked to asthma and reproductive harm. The overuse of quats can also lead to the promotion of antibacterial-resistant bacteria (“superbugs”), which is bad news for everyone…All pre-moistened wipes must include some form of chemical preservative to prevent bacteria growth in the package. Many preservatives used in wipes include parabens, formaldehyde releasers and MI/MCI which have also been associated with adverse health effects.

Read the entire post on Voices Blog.

Your Health: Occupational Exposures—Nail Salons, Lead and Asbestos

written by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Beginning with this post, these columns will be focused on one issue and will be posted as topics emerge rather than on a strict weekly schedule.

Exposure to chemicals, radiation, dust, heat and other stressors at work are a perennial concern. Recent items highlight some of the dangers in nail salons, e-waste recycling facilities and asbestos-related industries.

NailSalonsAndExposuresThe IAQ Video Network and Cochrane & Associates produced a brief video, Nail Salons & Chemical Exposure Concerns. The video describes how brief exposures to the chemicals found in nail and beauty products from occasional visits to a salon may not be of concern, but for hundreds of thousands of salon workers who are exposed for several hours and many days each week, attention needs to be directed toward reducing exposures. Identifying which chemicals are in products, using less hazardous products, improving ventilation and reducing chemical contact with skin can all reduce risks for workers.

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Your Health the Week of July 20th

Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Exercise and Health

Other than diet, exercise is probably the contributor to health that we have the most control over as individuals. Three studies this week provide evidence that exercise affects several aspects of health, sometimes in combination with other factors.

bicyclingAs reported in ScienceDaily, Exercise can improve brain function in older adults. A study was conducted with healthy but underactive or sedentary adults ages 65 and older who showed no signs of cognitive decline. Individuals were randomly assigned to one of four groups: those without any change in their exercise (the control group), and groups that exercised moderately for 75, 150 or 225 minutes per week. All groups who exercised saw some benefit, with greater amounts of exercise related to greater cardiorespiratory fitness and less perceived disability at the end of six months. Those who exercised also saw benefits in cognitive test scores, particularly in improved visual-spatial processing, and an increase in their overall attention levels and ability to focus. In sum, better scores on cognitive tests were related to cardiorespiratory fitness rather than the number of minutes of exercise, so the study concludes that cardiorespiratory fitness may be an appropriate goal for maintaining both physical and cognitive health as we age.

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Your Health the Week of July 13th

Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist


Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl; some are also used in cosmetics and personal care products. Six phthalates are currently banned from use in many products for children due to evidence of reproductive and neurodevelopmental harm. A Time Magazine article, These plastic chemicals may be just as dangerous as what they replace, reported that as research about one particular phthalate, DEHP, showed it to be a probable human carcinogen and associated with other health effects, manufacturers began to replace it with DINP and DIDP, two other phthalates. Two recent studies have shown a connection between adverse effects from these two replacement chemicals. The first study links high blood pressure in children 6-19 years old and the presence of DINP and DIDP in urine. The second study, from the same researchers, found a link between the replacement phthalates in urine and insulin resistance in adolescents 12-19 years old. Neither study was designed to determine if the phthalates caused the conditions.

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Your Health the Week of July 6th

written by Nancy Hepp, MS Research and Communications Specialist

This post was updated to correct and clarify misleading statements on July 16th.

Electronics, Electrical Fields, and Radiation

screensTelevisions are still dominant, but computers, mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices are capturing more and more of children’s attention and waking hours. In Screen addiction is taking a toll on children, the New York Times investigates the consequences of so much screen time, including neglect of schoolwork, stunted social development, overweight, impairment in focus, sleep deprivation and aches from poor posture and overuse of some muscles. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to somewhere between less than one and two hours per day for children age two and older, with no use for children under two years old.

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Your Health the Week of June 29th

Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Those of us in the northern hemisphere are at the height of summer, at the biggest summer holiday weekend in the US. Several news articles and studies published this week looked at summertime concerns: heat, skin cancer, outdoor recreation, and air quality. Summertime is a great season for recreation and outdoor play, and a few precautions will help preserve the fun.

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Your Health the Week of June 22nd

Nancy Heppwritten by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Artificial Light and Sleep

Two articles this week address one of the most pervasive public health issues in developed countries: sleep deprivation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 labeled insufficient sleep a public health epidemic, citing its connection to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Insufficient sleep is also linked to increased risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity and cancer as well as increased mortality.

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