Diabetes Testing

Why and How to Track Diabetes Health

Most people who have diabetes track their blood sugar levels. Lots of us also track our weight, what we eat, and our exercise. But not many of us do anything useful with these numbers.

If we want to improve any of them, just writing them down and studying them will get us part of the way there. That’s because of the observer effect where simply observing something changes what we see.

Tracking Bears and Tracking Diabetes Have Lots in Common

But only when we act in response to our health tracking, does it began to be worth the effort. People with diabetes who don’t use insulin are wasting their time and money when they test their blood sugar, according to a study by the Cochrane Collaboration, the most respected group that reviews scientific studies. Two years ago I wrote about and linked that study in my post, “The Trouble with Glucose Testing.” The problem is that our medical professionals don’t usually teach us what our blood sugar levels should be and how to get there.

Fully 69 percent of U.S. adults told the Pew Research Center that they track health indicators like weight, diet, exercise, or blood sugar. But 44 percent say that they track their progress only in their heads. About one half of them say that they write down their numbers on paper or use something like a spreadsheet, website, app, or device. But less than half of the people who track their health say that it changed what they do.

A second Pew Research Center study of health tracking shows that people with chronic health conditions like diabetes are somewhat more likely to track their health indicators. Half of the people with chronic conditions say that it changes what they do.

This study clearly points to the first step we need to take when we track our diabetes health. We have to write down on paper or otherwise what our numbers are. A paper log works well for many people, and that is what I have used most often. But we now have many sophisticated apps and health tracking devices that might make this a little easier.

The second step is to organize the results in a way that we can compare them over time. For example, when we track our blood sugar levels we need to be able to separate out our pre- and post-meal levels.

The third step is to make notes of variables that you think might be causing your numbers to change. Did you eat or drink more or less than usual? Did you eat more or fewer carbs? Did your physical activity change?

Then, the fourth step is to change or eliminate one variable at a time to see if it’s the culprit. Do you weigh more because you ate out? Did skipping breakfast lead to your eating a big lunch? You can change that.

Knowing what we have done can guide us to take the direction that we know is healthier and to the place that we want to reach. To get there we need to track.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Dennis Adair March 9, 2014 at 5:47 am

    I am 60 yrs old, and have been a diabetic for 58 yrs now. This routine of collecting information has been around forever! I can remember doing urine test 4-5 times a day, writing them down in a journal and bring them to my doctors in the Phila. Area. It is very frustrating to spend so much time taking the test, writing it down, time, date, activity etc and then give it to a dr. Who looks at it for a minute and files it in his/her chart but does not make any chances. I did the same thing for YEARS, with testing my blood sugars, record them, print them, chart them, only for the dr to dismiss them like it was nothing. It has only been in the last ten to fifteen years or so that I believe that the drs have known what to do with the test results. It would be great if we would have information on how to change our pumps according to our blood test results.

    • David Mendosa March 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Dear Dennis,

      Thank you for adding your comment. I appreciate it.

      I agree completely with you that our doctors are generally quite unresponsive to the information we take them about our tests. But, of course, I didn’t write anything in my article about taking the tests to them. My emphasis is totally on testing for our own information — and for our own action to keep improving our blood sugar levels.