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Dr Jackson publishes research that shows tight control of glucose with more insulin as well as carbohydrates and calories show better growth as well as some prevention in the development of diabetic retinopathy.

September 30, 1956


The Development of Diabetic Retinopathy: Effects of Duration and Control of Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

In the late 1930s, Dr. Robert L. Jackson, then a pediatrician at the University of Iowa School of Medicine, joined the debate. Dr. Jackson, supported by his wife, who was a nutritionist, questioned why the diets of children with diabetes were restricted in carbohydrate and calorie content. He observed that, with such restriction, children were not growing well. The diet of restricted calorie and carbohydrate contained a high fat content so that smaller or fewer doses of insulin would be required. (Only regular insulin was available then.)

Dr. Jackson began to experiment with a regular meal plan (he did not care for the word “diet”) and four injections/day of regular insulin and found that his method could control blood glucose levels in children while still allowing them to grow. He had the foresight to also document the effects of his method on the health of organs usually damaged by diabetes (eye and kidney). And, in the 1950s, he published landmark research1,2 documenting the prevention of retinopathy in children with well-controlled diabetes. Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson’s data were not well received. This was in part because there was not a good method of measuring glucose control at the time, but primarily because both patients and doctors recognized how hard it was to achieve glucose control.

Longer-acting insulins (protamine zinc insulin, globin, NPH, and the lente series) were becoming available in the ’40s and ’50s, and physicians trying to be nice to patients were prescribing one dose of insulin per day. Their reasoning was that if control didn’t make any difference anyway, why try to achieve it with numerous daily injections? This method of diabetes control was easier for patients and physicians alike, so it was easy to develop this mindset. Specialists were not needed, and anyone could do it, they said. Physicians with this mindset tended to demand strict scientific evidence that control mattered, while accepting data to the contrary without rigorous scientific scrutiny.