Natalie Balmain & eight-year-old Hugo

Type 1 diabetes advocate Natalie Balmain joins forces with DigiBete, the Health Service Journal’s 2023 award winner for Digitising Patient Care, as they partner with Leeds Children’s Hospital. The collaboration marks the launch of the Blue Balloon Challenge School Awareness packs and the announcement of a new eLearning platform for schools and the community.

DigiBete’s recent visit to Gledhow Primary School in Leeds, accompanied by Natalie, Channel 4’s ‘Make Me Prime Minister’ winner, was central to this effort. The visit aimed to connect with eight-year-old Hugo, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at just nine months old. DigiBete and Natalie raised awareness about the profound impact of diabetes on childhood mental health through the #BlueBalloonChallenge.

This initiative sheds light on the daily challenges faced by young individuals and families managing type 1 diabetes, highlighting the crucial need for additional psychological support, as highlighted in the latest National CYP Diabetes Audit¹.

The new school packs include various learning resources for primary and secondary school pupils, including a lesson plan and school assembly presentation. DigiBete is also developing a new eLearning platform to enhance the understanding of what it’s like to live with diabetes for teaching staff in collaboration with the National Children and Young People’s Diabetes Network, JDRF UK and Diabetes UK.


Natalie, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for 17 years and is passionate about inspiring and educating pupils about the condition, says: “Whilst it doesn’t define me, it does affect everything in my life. You can’t do anything without thinking about your diabetes first. I wish the world knew that type 1 diabetes does not mean you are unhealthy, and that it’s not caused by eating too many sweets. It’s an autoimmune condition and is incredibly challenging for young people in schools who face so many questions about their diabetes daily, and it’s exhausting.”

As reported in the National Paediatric Diabetes Audit (NPDA)2, diagnosis of all types of diabetes is rising, with a 6% increase in type 1 diagnoses, which makes the work that DigiBete do vital to supporting the increasing numbers of families facing the challenges of managing the condition.

Maddie Julian, Founder of DigiBete, says: “As we celebrate the launch of the Blue Balloon Challenge School Packs and eLearning platform, DigiBete remains committed to raising awareness about the impact of type 1 diabetes on childhood physical and mental health.

“Looking towards 2024, DigiBete has a clear focus on enhancing care in schools. We’re excited to share that we are actively developing a new eLearning platform to support better understanding among school staff, reinforcing our mission to empower and educate communities on managing type 1 diabetes.”

Throughout November, €5 has been donated by Medtronic, a global diabetes technology company, to the global charity Life for a Child for every post on Instagram taking part in the challenge and using the hashtag #BlueBalloonChallenge. The challenge aims to highlight that living with diabetes is like doing everything you do in your daily life while keeping a balloon in the air.


  1. Despite reductions in the percentages recorded as requiring additional support between 2020/21 and 2021/22, over a third of children and young people were assessed as requiring additional psychological support outside of multidisciplinary team meetings (39.0% of those with Type 1 diabetes and 48.3% of those with Type 2 diabetes). Reasearch from rcpch.
  2. The increase in incidence of Type 1 diabetes observed in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic has continued through the 2021/22 audit year. There were 3,883 new diagnoses of Type 1 diabetes in 2021/22 managed within a PDU, compared to 3,662 in 2020/21. This is 1,010 more than the average number newly diagnosed and being managed in a PDU between 2013/14-2019/20, before the start of the pandemic. Research from rcpch.