Do Kids with Type 1 Diabetes Experience Worse Educational Outcomes?

Mr Nicolas Bowden, University of Otago

 Type 1 diabetes causes a significant physical and psychological burden for children who are affected by the disease – and their families. Type 1 diabetes can cause serious health issues and can also alter the developing brain. But does living with type 1 diabetes influence educational outcomes for children in Aotearoa? Researchers from the University of Otago plan to find out. 

Kids, Diabetes, and Education 

Type 1 diabetes is a life-long disease usually diagnosed in childhood – it is not caused by poor diet, and it is not preventable. It is currently affecting over 20,000 individuals – and their families – in New Zealand.  If it’s not well managed, type 1 diabetes can cause serious health issues – including problems with eyesight and blood circulation, as well as damage to the heart and kidneys. “Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic disorders of childhood,” says Nick Bowden, Research Fellow at the University of Otago. “Diabetes requires many injections, finger pricks, and decisions every day. This intensity and complexity of management carries substantial burden — both physically and psychologically — for children and their families. In addition, young people with type 1 diabetes experience high and low glucose levels. Brain imaging research has shown that this can have negative impacts on the developing brain. 

 These potential impacts on the brain prompted Bowden, and co-researcher Dr Ben Wheeler — an Associate Professor at the University of Otago — to investigate the effect of type 1 diabetes on educational outcomes. “To do this,” says Bowden, “we will examine the education outcomes of a large national cohort [group] of young people in Aotearoa. We will use health data to identify those with and without type 1 diabetes, and education data to explore rates of suspensions, NCEA achievement, and tertiary enrolment among these two groups.” 

A Better Understanding 

Nick Bowden’s research has the potential to positively affect the lives of children living with type 1 diabetes. “We hope that this work will help shed additional light on the longer-term negative impacts of type 1 diabetes for children,” he says. “If differences in education outcomes are found between those with and without type 1 diabetes, this will provide an evidence base that can be used to advocate for policy change, interventions, and targeted supports.” 

As rates of diabetes in New Zealand are disproportionately high in rangatahi (young) Māori and Pasifika people,4 Bowden and Dr Wheeler plan to specifically examine educational outcomes for these groups of children. “These findings,” says Mr Bowden, “may also help in reducing known inequities in educational outcomes for Māori and Pasifika. It’s important because we want to ensure that young people with type 1 diabetes have the same educational opportunities as people without type 1 diabetes.” 

How You Can Help 

Nick Bowden’s research is one of nine research ideas chosen to receive a Project Grant from Cure Kids in 2021. For 50 years, Cure Kids has been committed to enabling research that transforms children’s health in New Zealand. It is only through the generous contributions of people like you that Cure Kids can continue to fund vital research – such as Bowden and Dr Wheeler’s research examining the effect of type 1 diabetes on educational outcomes. Find out how you can become a Cure Kids donor today.