Fish help children deal with diabetes
An aquarium full of impressive fish and plants is eye-catching in any home and a great hobby for the whole family. However, American scientists have recently also proven that the underwater dwellers can also positively affect the health of children who suffer from diabetes.
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Type 1 diabetes, sometimes also called children’s diabetes, is the most common metabolic disorder among children and affects about 30,000 people under 19 years old in Germany alone. With this type of diabetes, the body’s own immune system forms antibodies against the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. As there is no cure for this autoimmune disease, patients with type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin on a life-long basis to prevent potentially fatal hypoglycaemic episodes or excessively high blood sugar levels.

A diabetes diagnosis changes lives

Several things therefore change for families after a child is diagnosed with diabetes: they have to keep a closer eye on their child’s diet, measure blood sugar levels and conduct insulin injections. The illness also has to be dealt with whether the child is at nursery, at school or on a playground in the late afternoon – in other words, all day. This makes it all the more important to integrate treatment into everyday life. After all, children often lack the awareness of just how important consistent treatment of type 1 diabetes is.

A fish as a pet for health management

In view of the above, American researchers looked into whether keeping a pet can help children deal better with their illness. Instead of looking at cats or dogs, which not all families are able to have, the scientists decided to research what happens when children have pet fish to look after.

Scientists from the Southwestern Medical Center of the University of Texas conducted their study with 28 children and young people aged between ten and 17. They divided these into two groups. The children in the first group were given a Siamese fighting fish, an aquarium and instructions on how to look after it. The researchers suggested that the children put the aquarium in their own bedroom. A control group of children was not given a fish to look after.
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Looking after the fish reminds children to measure their blood sugar

The children and parents who received a fish were given tips on how to associate looking after this with regular blood sugar checks. When the children feed the fish in the morning and evening, they should then measure their blood sugar level. It was also suggested that they should change quarter of the aquarium water once a week and then discuss their blood sugar readings with their parents. The children who were not given a fish could simply continue to deal with their illness as usual.

Looking after fish improves the long-term blood sugar level

The German Diabetes Association (Deutsche Diabetes Gesellschaft – DDG) recommends a long-term blood sugar level (HbA1c) of 7.5 mmol/mol. The astonishing result of the study was that the blood sugar level of the children who looked after a Siamese fighting fish showed a 0.5 percent improvement after three months, whereas the levels of the children without a fish actually deteriorated by 0.8 percent.

There was a particularly clear improvement in the levels of children aged between ten and 13”, explained Dr Gupta from the UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Children of this age become gradually more independent from their parents and, unlike older children, are particularly keen to look after the fish on their own.

As the daily act of feeding the fish was associated with controlled diabetes treatment, the children were able to develop a routine. Feeding or cleaning out their fish reminded them to check their blood sugar level. Having a fish therefore not only taught the children to take care of a pet but also to deal with their illness more responsibly and attentively.

Fish, crustaceans and co. help deal with illnesses

Regularly looking after a fish can be a way of adding structure to children’s busy everyday lives. As a result, social worker Cornelia Dilly consciously makes fish and co. a firm part of caring for children. Click here to find out more about how children learn to deal with difficult situations in everyday life with the aid of aquarium inhabitants.

AUTHOR: Tetra GmbH
DATE: 17.06.2016