One of the issues that really gets me going is kids in school with type 1 diabetes who feel isolated, or are bullied, or don't get access to their treatments because diabetes is not well understood. Alongside that I want kids to have good, engaging education on making healthy choices so that their future is not going to include developing type 2. If diabetes continues to rise in prevalence at it's current rate, 1 in 4 children at school will have diabetes when they are in late adulthood. This for me is quite terrifying - what kind of future is that to offer young people?
How to tackle this? Well, a purely medical approach won't work. Nurses and doctors don't have the time to go into schools to talk about diabetes, kids don't want a lecture on metabolic systems and teachers don't have the training themselves to explain one of the most complex conditions there is. Diabetes UK Scotland doesn't know how to educate primary school kids and schools don't want us taking up their class time.
We had to think differently. The Edinburgh International Science Festival has a worldwide reputation for making science education fun and interesting and encouraging kids to enjoy science. We have the diabetes knowledge and the ability to fundraise. The schools have a new 'curriculum for excellence' that requires learning to integrate subject areas. From that an idea was born. Why not devise a schools tour that took healthy lifestyle messages and promotion to the kids in a way that matches curriculum objectives? But, in addition, the first step in this was through one of our volunteers who attended an EISF event and had that 'lightbulb' moment - and reminds me that you can take an idea from its initial point of origin and take it right through to fruition. Something to remember when ideas seem too hard to make a reality.
Live for It! is the fantastic result of this. After almost a year of development, and £100,000 investment with sponsorship from Lifescan, Pfizer and ScotMid we have launched a joint project between EISF and Diabetes UK Scotland that debuted yesterday at Niddrie Mills Primary School in Edinburgh.
Each school participates in four 90 minute sessions during which students explore topics including, diet, cooking, digestion, diabetes and how the body uses energy. The programme comprises three interactive workshops, Eat for it! – where students go on a journey through the digestive system, Go for It! where they test blood glucose and learn how our bodies convert food into energy, and Cook for It! – all about eating a balanced diet and making healthy food choices. The final session Live for It! allows the students to show off what they have learned through a series of interesting challenges, including Oscar; a life size model patient with exposed organs and a flashing red nose modelled on the ‘Operation’ board game.
The kids get to find out about how glucose and diet affect the body...
I went along to the launch yesterday and had an amazing time - seeing kids talk about the pancreas, the first time they made and tasted cous cous, figure out what foods to eat and be excited about exercise and what recipes they had tried over the four weeks was great. Seeing a very tangible impact from our work was also good and gives your enthusiasm a real boost. I also got to try out the x box kinnect challenge along with Sarah Ward [Diabetes UK Scotland Project Development Manager and the one to contact about Live for It! - firstname.lastname@example.org].
This year we will reach around 26 schools and we are already planning for how to fund more.
For me this is what the job ultimately is about - yes, writing reports, filing documents, sorting out emails, managing the budget - these are all essential. But the only reason for doing all of that is so that a bunch of kids get the chance to make the choices about their life that can make the difference between a healthy life or one where type 2 diabetes looms down the line. And the great thing is that with the EISF we will get robust evaluated outcomes and be able to take this to the Scottish Government and others and say, hey, why not make sure every kid in Scotland gets this?
I get to hang out with the EISF team - amazing people - and their Director - Simon Gage - also amazing!