Sophomore Meg Ryan texts her mother every morning from college to let her know she woke up that day. Then she pricks her finger and puts a sample of blood onto a test strip to test her blood sugar. She punches the meter’s reading into an insulin pump that is attached to her body at all times and counts how many carbohydrates she will eat for breakfast.
This daily routine is all part of Ryan’s struggle to deliver enough insulin to her system each day because she has Type 1 diabetes.
Ryan said the hardest adjustment for her to make at college was eating in the dining halls. Now she is working with the Ithaca College Diabetes Awareness Club to make it easier for students like her to keep track of their diet while eating meals on campus.
“If I’m eating in the dining halls, it gets a little complicated,” Ryan said. “I have to pick out what I want then come back to the table and try and figure out what carbs are on my plate and try and count them without labels which is difficult and without measuring cups.”
Diabetes is a disorder of the endocrine system that occurs when the blood glucose level in the body is high. When the pancreas fails to produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert blood glucose into energy, it is called Type 1 diabetes. When the body builds a resistance to insulin it is considered Type 2. Both are chronic and must be regulated by maintaining blood glucose levels with a balanced diet and frequent exercise.
Since students living in the residence halls on campus must have a meal plan, Ryan said her diet is hard to maintain while at college. Ryan said when she saw a salad label at Towers dining hall that said a salad had 63 carbohydrates, she began to question labels’ reliability. Ryan said she knew a salad would have 20 carbohydrates at most.
“It’s flat-out dangerous for people with diabetes,” she said. “Because when the carb information is wrong on the nutrition labels, we enter the exact amount of carbs that we’re eating into our pumps. If we get too much insulin, blood sugar becomes very high.”
Junior Jessica Polizzi, president of the Diabetes Awareness Club, said she does not have diabetes herself but started the club last year because her grandfather died of complications from the disease.
The club is working on a project to educate the campus community about diabetes and is working to raise money for the American Diabetes Association and Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund throughout the month for National Diabetes Month.
Polizzi said the club also plans to create bulletin boards in residence halls and install measuring devices in the dining halls that will
allow students with diabetes to keep track of their carbohydrate intake more easily.
Polizzi and junior Brandon Discenza, financial assistant and director of communications of the Diabetes Awareness Club, are working with Jeff Scott, general manager of the college’s
Dining Services, to implement changes in the dining halls that will make tracking meals easier.
Representatives from the club said dining halls will begin to offer a kit of tools such as measuring cups for students who have diabetes. The proposed kit will be available in the Campus Center and Terrace dining halls.
Scott said he looks forward to piloting the kit with members of the club.
“It’s actually kind of neat that now there’s a club so that these students can collaborate,” Scott said. “They can have some peer support as well as come to us in a concerted effort.”
Aside from setting up the kits and raising money, Polizzi said the club is not sure what issues they would like to tackle next. In the
future, she said they hope to approach the club from a fresh perspective.
“We’re starting on a clean slate next semester,” Polizzi said. “I really want to make sure we have concrete goals for the spring.”
Tom Czajak, director of Central New York American Diabetes Association, said he understands regulating diet at college takes discipline for students — especially those who have diabetes.
“There’s always the potential for late night snacking … that may derail the attempts to moderate a diet,” he said.
Ryan is the only student living with diabetes in the Diabetes Awareness Club. She said she was amazed that so many people without diabetes wanted to help raise awareness but was disappointed that she was the only one who has diabetes.
“I really wanted to be in the club so I meet someone that has it and is going through the same stuff,” she said. “But that didn’t happen.”
Polizzi said Ryan has already made a significant impact on the club by sharing her experiences.
“It’s really fantastic that we have someone like that [who] can give us firsthand information,” she said. “Seeing how many people on campus are affected by this, it’s scary that they’re not
being heard. So we want to be the voice.”
The Diabetes Awareness Club meets on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m.