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A picture is worth a thousand words: Researchers use photos to see how Type 1 diabetes affects kids

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The impact of Type 1 diabetes can be a trying and forceful one, especially for children. To better understand the disease's role in young patients' lives, Ashby Walker, PhD, and colleagues at University of Florida conducted a study in which they gave 40 kids cameras and asked them to take photos representing what life with diabetes meant for them.

university press release discussed what the researchers found:

The most common pictures were of diabetes supplies, with 88 percent of youth taking at least one picture of needles, syringes, meters, pumps, insulin, ketone strips, test kits, and other materials for managing diabetes.

The accompanying captions focused mainly on the unavoidable presence of these supplies in the youths’ lives and the annoyance surrounding that fact. For instance, one white male participant wrote: “Diabetes means the burden of supplies,” and another wrote, “Because this is my life now. Needles and medicine, needles and medicine.”

Approximately half the adolescents also took pictures of their bodies with bruises, calluses, and pricked fingertips to display the physical pain and bodily evidence of diabetes and wrote captions that illustrate the pain and burden of the disease. For instance, one white female participant wrote: “This is a scar. Diabetes is about learning to get used to what hurts.”

The researchers also saw key differences in the types of photos taken by children in different socioeconomic situations:

...[Y]outh from more affluent households were more likely to take photos with symbols of resistance. The resistance photos and captions showed how the adolescents overcome the hardships associated with diabetes and sought to show how they would not be defined or limited by their diagnosis. More than half the adolescents took at least one resilience photo, but affluent youth were more likely to take these pictures than those from lower socioeconomic levels.

For instance, one white male wrote: “This shows that diabetes does not limit what you can do in your life,” describing a photo of a map with red dots on places he had traveled during the summer months.

“These photos demonstrate the importance of assisting low-income youth by providing them with resources and perspectives that encourage them to not be defined by their diagnosis," Walker concludes. Her work appears in the journal Diabetes Spectrum.

Alex Giacomini is an English literature major at UC Berkeley and a writing and social media intern in the medical school's Office of Communication and Public Affairs.  

Previously: High blood sugar linked to reduced brain growth in children with Type 1 diabetesTips for parents on recognizing and responding to type 1 diabetes and Researchers struggle to explain rise of Type 1 diabetes
Photo by Jill Brown

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