Parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM) have an important role in supporting diabetes management behaviours and helping to maintain their child’s healthy lifestyle. Physical activity has known benefits for children with T1DM [Diabet Med 31: 1163-1173], but children with chronic health conditions typically have low levels of physical activity. Research is needed to build an understanding of the experience of physical activity for children with T1DM. The purpose of this study was to understand parents’ perceptions of what influences physical activity for children with T1DM and to inform the practice of those working with children who have T1DM.
Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 20 parents (18 mothers, 2 fathers) who had a child aged 7 – 13 years with T1DM in the UK. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and data were analysed using thematic analysis [Qual Res Psychol 3: 77-101, 2006]).
Factors believed to influence participation in physical activity are presented as 7 major themes and 15 subthemes. Themes that emerged included the conflict between planning and spontaneous activity, struggles to control blood glucose, recognition of the importance of physical activity, the determination of parents, children relying on their parents to manage physical activity, the importance of a good support system and individual factors about the children that influence physical activity participation.
This study highlights that parents serve as gate-keepers for children’s physical activity. The findings provide insight into the need for T1DM knowledge and competence in personnel involved in the supervision of children’s physical activities. Healthcare providers should collaborate with families to ensure understanding of how to manage physical activity. The findings sensitise professionals to the issues confronted by children with T1DM and their parents, as well as the methods used by children and their families to overcome obstacles to physical activity. The implications for further research, clinical practice, and physical activity promotion with children with T1DM are discussed.