Q: My son has diabetes, but he insists on playing Little League this year. We'd like to let him, but won't it throw his diabetes off?
A: Parents of children and adolescents with chronic illnesses often worry about the ability of their sons and daughters to participate safely in sports. With proper care and forethought, virtually every individual can join some kind of sports activity. Increased cardiovascular fitness and improved self-esteem are but two benefits of sports participation. In your son's case, regular exercise will help lower his blood sugar and increase the body's sensitivity to the insulin he must take daily. Individuals who exercise regularly can lower their body's insulin need by as much as 30 percent.
Participation in sports will require advance planning, however. Since exercise can lower blood sugar, your son must either decrease his insulin dose or increase his food intake (or both) prior to playing. How to do this is probably best discussed with your son's physician.
While having a chronic illness can make sports participation more complicated, it should never be the basis for excluding a child completely. As is the case with your son, a thorough understanding of how the illness interacts with the demands of a particular sport and consultation with a knowledgeable physician will assure that full participation is achieved.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.