Diabetes education: High school drop-outs or Ivy Leaguers?

Diabetes and education: drop out or ivy leagueA recent study from Yale shows that young people with diabetes are more likely to drop out of high school and college. Yikes! As soon as I read the headline on the NPR health blog, Shots, I thought of how my own educational experience, while challenging at times, was rewarding on many levels. After being diagnosed as a freshman in high school, I graduated and headed west to the University of Colorado where I studied Art History (and other fun adventures.) So this study seemed completely at contrast with my own experience. Who were these students and why were they struggling?

Who is Struggling and Why?

The study followed the same group of 15,000 high school students from 1994 to 2008, and found that those with diabetes were 5 to 7 percentage points more likely to drop out of high school. They were also 8 to 13 percentage points less likely to attend college or to complete a degree than those without the illness. As they aged, young people with diabetes lagged their high school classmates in employment by 8 to 11 percentage points, and were 8 to 13 percentage points more likely to receive aid from social programs. Lead author Dr. Jason Fletcher says, "One such hypothesis would be that individuals with diabetes have higher rates of absence throughout their schooling years, which might lower performance and attachment to school."

To The Rescue!

That's why resources like the Diabetes Scholars Foundation are so important. Founded in 2004 by a group of parents with diabetic children, the DSF provides 20-25, $5,000 college scholarships per year. "In the past four years we have awarded over $350,000 in college scholarships," says President Mary Podjasek. Mary has a daughter and husband with type 1 diabetes and says, "These kids are incredible. The selection process is extremely difficult because we get about 650 applications each year. 22 of our students are National Merit Scholars," she adds. One of the DSF recipients is Dartmouth College student Svati Narula who agreed to speak with me about college life, being a diabetes advocate and what it was like to receive a scholarship from the DSF. Svati was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in September 2000, three days after her 9th birthday, in 4th grade.

The challenges of living with diabetes as an adolescent in high school and college should not be ignored, and the Yale study highlights the need to look at the ripple effects of diabetes. Dr. Fletcher says "Our main goal was to understand the non-medical costs associated with diabetes in order to eventually suggest policies that may reduce these consequences." The cost of diabetes goes beyond medical supplies and students like Svati are proof that with this needed support, young people with diabetes can be Ivy Leaguers instead of high school drop-outs.

About Amy Stockwell Mercer

Amy Stockwell Mercer is a freelance writer living in Charleston, SC with her husband and three young sons. Her book, The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes, Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood, was published by Demos Health in 2010 and the follow up, The Smart Woman's Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes, What Will Work, will be published in the fall of 2012. Amy has written for several local and national publications including Diabetes Health, Diabetes Mine and Diabetes Forecast. Diagnosed in 1985, Amy has lived with type 1 diabetes for 26 years, and finds motherhood to be the greatest inspiration for living well with diabetes.

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