Q&A on Childhood Diabetes

Dr. Janet Silverstein discusses type 1 diabetes, including its causes and how to help kids cope.

Dr. Janet Silverstein, a diabetes expert at the UF College of Medicine, is a powerful advocate for change in the war against childhood diabetes. She has a compelling reason: if type 1 diabetes continues to spread at its current rate, one in three Americans born today will get this incurable disease.


Q. Why aren’t people more concerned about this disease?

A. I think in general, it’s not considered as big a threat as some other diseases that are actually less common. Children with diabetes look and act normal, and, therefore, people don’t realize that this is a very serious chronic disease that could lead to blindness, amputation and early heart failure. We’re getting better at treating diabetes, but we don’t have a cure.

Q. How do you get type 1 diabetes?

A. Children are born with a predisposition to develop the disease and then there’s an unknown environmental trigger that tells the immune system to destroy the insulin producing cells in their pancreaes. At UF, we’re trying to find out what that trigger is.

Q. You hear a lot about children with type 2 diabetes — the one associated with obesity — in the news. What’s going on?

A. It used to be that we never saw type 2 diabetes in children, and now, it’s anywhere from 15 to 45 percent of all kids diagnosed. We actually had an 18-year-old girl years ago who never took care of herself, and she had a stroke at 18. So, if we don’t do something to prevent the increase in obesity in our society, there’s going to be a huge public health problem in just a few years.

Q. How do you help kids cope?

A. We have camping programs where children who have diabetes can meet each other, so they don’t feel so isolated. Children who wouldn’t tell anyone they had diabetes and fought against testing their own blood sugar leave camps, and their parents say, “He gives himself his own shots, and he wants to talk about diabetes in front of his class.” It’s just a total turnaround for most of these kids.

Q. What’s the end goal of your research in childhood diabetes?

A. You hope that at the end of it, we do better. That children have better outcomes. And there are a lot of us working together on this. There are a lot of talented people who are absolutely, totally committed to these kids. And it’s worth it.

—Elizabeth Downs* (BA ’08, BSJ ’08)

Join the Fight

UF has one of the top pediatric diabetes centers in the world. To learn more about UF’s battle against this disease or about diabetes treatment and management, visit diabetes.ufl.edu.