Supporting students with diabetes at university

New review explores experiences and support needs of university students with diabetes

By Dr Elizabeth Holmes-Truscott

Starting university can be an exciting but challenging time. This may be especially true for students with diabetes. A recent review led by Dr Virginia Hagger looked into the experiences of university students with diabetes. From 20 studies, there were four key themes.

1. Barriers to self-care at university. This includes a lack of structure, increased independence, and adapting to a new environment. Compared to high-school, students receive less support at university. Lack of food labelling and restrictions on accessing food in places like the library make self-care more challenging. Students also fear experiencing low blood glucose in public.

2. Living with diabetes as a university student. Thisrequires a careful balancing act, juggling diabetes, academic responsibilities and social activities. Some students engage in risky alcohol-related behaviours. Others feel like they are missing out on social activities due to diabetes. Fatigue can make it difficult for students with diabetes to concentrate in class.

3. Identity, stigma and disclosure. Some students with diabetes feel different from their peers and fear being judged. This may lead to non-disclosure and contribute to feelings of isolation. Overtime some students gain confidence in advocating for themselves and educate others about diabetes.

4. Strategies for managing diabetes at university. Students consider their diabetes when choosing which university to attend. They select supportive roommates. They seek information about managing diabetes in young adulthood and university. But report a lack of resources on sexual health, mental health, substance use, and accessing medical support. Students plan ahead for the university environment, including long irregular days. While rarely reaching out to university support services, they rely on friends, peers, and parents for support. Diabetes technologies, such as pumps and CGM, offer greater flexibility in diabetes management. But some report these technologies make diabetes more visible. Students also create their own rules around alcohol and socialising. This includes regulating the amount and type of alcohol, and the settings in which, they drink.

There is a lack of resources tailored to the unique needs of university students with diabetes.  This review identified ways that universities can offer better support for students managing their diabetes while navigating the challenges of university life. This support is crucial for their health and academic success.

For more information, check out our other blogs focused on young adults with diabetes.


Reference: Hagger V, J. Lake A, Singh T, Hamblin PS, Rasmussen B. The experiences and support needs of students with diabetes at university: an integrative literature review. Diabetic Medicine. 2023 Jan;40(1):e14943.

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