World Health Day: “Beat Diabetes”

Today’s World Health Day and the World Health Organization chose diabetes as the focus. The campaign this year uses misleading and combative language in an effort to encourage people to take steps and present the onset of “diabetes.”

There is not enough of an effort to educate the world on what diabetes is and all of the types. Some cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented, people living with prediabetes can delay or forgo a diagnosis of type 2 with appropriate lifestyle changes. (Test your risk here.)

But my type 1 diabetes? It wasn’t preventable and it’s not curable… yet. Mike said it really well in the DiabetesMine post today:

This is such a focus on prevention, but what about those of us already living with type 1 and 2? We can’t feel that we’re at war with our disease all the time, can we?

The marketer in me knows that these strong, fighting words are intended to have more of an impact and stir some emotion in people. However, as a person with diabetes, this terminology stresses me out. I hate living with diabetes. I don’t like feeling as though my body is working against me all the time. It’s even worse when the world is working against me all the time as well. It’s exhausting to constantly face ignorance.

“Did you used to be fat?”

“How come you didn’t grow out of diabetes?”

“You look like you take care of yourself, how can you have diabetes?”

“Do you have the bad kind of diabetes?”

“I don’t know the differences in the types.” (subtext: and I don’t care to learn.)

I recently had coffee with the new-ish executive director for ADA in the state of Ohio and we talked a lot about my experiences, misconceptions and access issues. One nice thing about our conversation had nothing to do with the words, but everything to do with her reaction to my pulling out my PDM to test my blood sugar. It was the most normal thing in the world to her. I don’t get that a lot… even around extended family.

I’ve said before that I don’t have a ton of offline connection to other people who live with diabetes,  but my online connections have been so valuable.

Diabetes isn’t an enemy to “beat,” “fight” or “defeat” every day. No one has the energy to wage a battle like that. Diabetes is a part of my life that I must manage, accept, deal with, care for and even respect. It’s a powerful disease that has the ability to damage me as well as kill me.

I think it’s more important to Beat the negativity and Spread some knowledge about diabetes. Here are ways to do that:

  • Stop blaming people for their diabetes (all types), shame is a huge roadblock to people seeking help and support.
  • Find better jokes. Diabetes is never an appropriate punch line. If Bob has 12 candy bars and he eats 10 of them, he’ll have a stomachache… not diabetes.
  • Learn the differences between the types. An oral medication may help someone with type 2 (insulin resistance) “control” their blood glucose, but an oral medication can’t help me with type 1 (no insulin production) get off shots.
  • Understand insulin. It’s a natural hormone that “normal” people make as well as an medication. It’s also not a punishment or failure for anyone with diabetes.
  • Get a better hashtag. The #diabetes hashtag on social media is erroneously full of pictures of donuts, cupcakes, cookies, candy and other junk food. That just spreads the misconceptions. May I recommend #sweettooth?
  • Know the symptoms. Too many people, especially children, die from undiagnosed diabetes because people didn’t recognize the symptoms, and far too many of us who live with diabetes were accidentally diagnosed by doctors when looking for another condition, even though we presented with textbook symptoms.

I’d encourage you to keep reading this World Health Day. Learn as much as you can and become an advocate yourself. I feel that the better educated people are about diabetes the better life will be for people who live with it. I also believe that better knowledge can actually help reduce the cases of preventable diabetes.

I recommend you start with these articles:

One thought on “World Health Day: “Beat Diabetes”

  1. I do not know that I completely agree or disagree with you. I guess i see things with more nuance. I am not upset with the graphics or the ‘beat diabetes’ but I do think that the online community is my best support and that we do not do enough to support type 1 and type 2’s today.

    I look at this in a different way because i see how far our community has come. Yes we are not there yet. But we were not there for my mom who passed after being type 1 for 26 years, or my aunt who passed after 3 years. Today I know we will never get there for me (42 years) and that is ok but I have to believe we will get there for my grandchildren or their children. Little steps.

    I referred your blog to the TUDiabetes blog page for the week of April 4, 2016.

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