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Children's Health: Candy as effective as glucose tablets for low blood sugar

Canadian study finds Skittles are a cheap, convenient and palatable option for diabetic children

Calgary researchers have discovered something that will have both diabetic kids and their parents jumping for joy: Skittles candies are as effective as glucose tablets at treating low blood sugar, and are cheaper to boot.

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is fairly common in people with diabetes. It happens when the person takes too much insulin or doesn’t eat enough food. Though previous studies in adults have shown glucose tablets are the most effective treatment for hypoglycemia, few studies have looked at children.

To evaluate whether the sugars sucrose and fructose are just as effective as glucose, the researchers enrolled 33 children ages five to 15 years who had diabetes for an average of three years.

Each child treated five occurrences of low blood sugar with glucose tablets, five with sucrose (Skittles) and five with fructose (Fruit to Go fruit leathers). Children younger than 10 years of age were instructed to take 10 Skittles, two glucose tablets or one fruit leather per treatment (all equal to 10 grams of carbohydrate) and those older than 10 years to take 15 Skittles, three glucose tablets or 1.5 fruit leathers per treatment (all equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate).

The researchers found no difference in the effectiveness of sucrose or glucose tablets in treating hypoglycemia. Both therapies successfully treated four occurrences, whereas fructose successfully treated only three.

The study also looked at the cost of all three treatments and found the Skittles to be the cheapest, costing only 20 cents per treatment, compared with 90 cents per glucose treatment and 60 cents per fructose treatment.

Study author Allison Husband, a diabetes nurse educator at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, says that while doctors have been recommending a variety of sugar sources to patients for years, diabetes associations have stated that oral glucose is the best method for treating hypoglycemia. Husband wanted to evaluate that recommendation against information she’d received from families, who were reporting different degrees of success with a variety of sugar sources. “Skittles, which for children are a very palatable, easy, convenient way to treat low blood sugars, are as effective as recommended glucose tablets,” Husband says.