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About diabetes

What is diabetes? How does it affect people? What is the difference between type 1 and type 2? These are all important questions for anyone who has regular contact with a child living with diabetes.

There is often confusion about diabetes. People get the types mixed up, don't know the symptoms or how to provide practical support to someone they know or who is in their care. Remember, Diabetes Queensland is only a phone call away. You can contact our friendly customer service team on 1300 136 588.


What is diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus (diabetes) is the world's fastest growing chronic disease. It occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, or when the insulin the body makes does not work properly. 


Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. After food is digested, carbohydrates in the food are broken down into glucose which then enters the blood stream. Insulin enables the body to use glucose for energy. 


Type 1 diabetes is most commonly found in children and adolescents, but can occur at any age. It occurs because the pancreas loses the ability to make insulin and is a lifelong condition. People with type 1 diabetes need to be given insulin to stay alive. 


Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes are able to make insulin but when it is released into the blood stream it is unable to work properly.


Other types of diabetes include gestational diabetes, which occurs in women during pregnancy, and pre-diabetes, which occurs as a result of increased blood glucose levels (BGLs).


It is all about the balance

Managing all types of diabetes is about maintaining a balance between factors which lower blood glucose levels (BGLs) like insulin and exercise, and those which raise blood glucose levels (BGLs), such as food and stress hormones. It is all about understanding and learning to make adjustments to lifestyle accounting for these factors.


Importantly, with planning and support, students can participate safely and have a productive, fun time at school.


Healthy living

Although managing diabetes may seem daunting at first, it does not prevent people with all types of diabetes from living a full and happy life. 


In fact, people with all types of diabetes should follow the same healthy eating guidelines as anyone else. For example,  to manage diabetes it is important to eat a balanced diet high in fibre, low in saturated fat, and containing low glycaemic index (low GI) carbohydrates that provide the body with necessary fuel and nutrients.


If you would like to know more about healthy shopping and eating, it's worth visiting Healthy Shopping online guide, which has lots of information about living well. To visit Healthy Shopping click here.


Developing an understanding


The following is an explanation of some of the terms you may come across if you have contact with someone living with diabetes.



Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. The body uses insulin to move glucose from the blood stream into cells where it is used as energy.


Insulin is required when the body is not producing its own insulin. It is taken as an injection or by an insulin pump. 


Blood glucose monitoring

Blood glucose monitoring is an important part of diabetes management. It is carried out by pricking a finger with a device called a lancet, to obtain a drop of blood. A meter then determines the amount of glucose in that blood sample.


Blood glucose testing is essential to monitor:

  • the effect of food, activity and insulin
  • hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia
  • diabetes management when the student is unwell



Hypoglycaemia (often called a 'hypo') is a low blood glucose level (BGL) which occurs when there is not enough glucose in the blood stream for the body to function.


A hypo may be caused by:

  • too much insulin
  • the amount of physical activity undertaken (in relation to type of carbohydrate timing and insulin doses)
  • not eating enough carbohydrates
  • an excess of excitement and stress (mood changes)
  • too much alcohol
  • temperature extremes



Hyperglycaemia is a high blood glucose level (BGL) when there is too much glucose in the blood stream. The blood glucose level is (BGL) usually above 15mmol/L.


High blood glucose levels (BGLs) can be caused by:

  • the body not producing enough insulin
  • eating too much carbohydrate-rich food
  • sickness or infection
  • stress
  • reduced physical routine


For more information on the basics of diabetes, refer to Students with diabetes - Guidelines for Queensland schools

What is diabetes?