When it comes to diabetes, people often blame the patient instead of the disease. I cannot think of another chronic illness for which this is the case. Much of the public seems to believe that we bring diabetes on ourselves. When people with diabetes are diagnosed with complications, uninformed observers often insist that it happened because they were “bad diabetics.” Comments like “She didn’t take care of herself” make me instantly defensive and angry. How can anyone know what that person went through on a day-to-day basis with her diabetes?
To promote diabetes awareness, a hospital where I once worked posted an ad on a giant television in the cafeteria. Awareness for diabetes–I should be thrilled, right? Unfortunately, the ad simply showed a picture of an apple and a donut, with a forbidding line drawn through the donut. The unspoken implication was that eating donuts causes diabetes.
This sort of advertising makes the public more confused about diabetes than ever. I worried that viewers would conclude that an unhealthy diet led to my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes as a teenager. One coworker later confessed that she did in fact think that a poor diet was the culprit behind my diagnosis. The truth is, however, that although I ate healthfully growing up and rarely had a donut, my diet had nothing to do with my diagnosis.
The reality is that diabetes can strike anyone at any age. Genetics plays a large role in both types of diabetes, and neither type is caused solely by poor nutrition. The cafeteria ad simply wasn’t fair or accurate. Instead, it just fueled the blame game.
I’d love for diabetes to get more press time, but it needs to be both accurate and fair. Increasing awareness of the true facts could lead not only to more funding and research, but also to less shame for people living with any type of diabetes, as well as more compassion and less judgment from the nondiabetic community.