It is time to stop blaming the diabetics for having Diabetes!
It has got to a point where diabetes cannot be mentioned in a sentence without someone also mentioning obesity.
This perpetuates the misconceptions that diabetes is explicitly caused by obesity and that it is preventable by living / eating better.
These perceptions are flawed, in so many ways that I decided I had to speak up about in the hope that we can start to draw attention to what is another, albeit more subtle, form of body shaming.
The first thing I want to do is explain that there are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. The most commonly referred to type in conjunction with the “obesity epidemic” is type 2, but when I have seen things written about this (away from official sources) people are very vague and refer to the whole thing under the blanket term of diabetes.
The two types are very different. I am going to quote the Diabetes UK website for an accurate definition:
Type 1 Diabetes
Often referred to as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is a form of diabetes mellitus that is most common in children but can be diagnosed at any age.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that permanently destroys beta cells in the pancreas, meaning that the body can no longer produce insulin.
People with type 1 diabetes therefore require regular insulin delivery to manage their diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder that results in hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) due to the body:
- Being ineffective at using the insulin it has produced; also known as insulin resistanceand/or
- Being unable to produce enough insulin
Type 2 diabetes was formerly known as non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes due to its occurrence mainly in people over 40.
As a bit of background explanation, my husband is type 1 diabetic. it was triggered when he was 5 yrs old after a bout of mumps. I don’t tell people about it as the primary description of him, but it comes up in conversation and it has struck me that now, more than ever in the past 13 years, I am finding myself having to justify his diabetic status.
I find myself having to explain his back ground , in order to somehow validate his condition it in the eyes of other people. I find I have to explain that he is active and healthy and not overweight, just to stop people giving you that look.
My husband is the one on the left of the picture, just an ordinary sized very active man at a wedding carrying a bunch of flowers who happens to be type 1 diabetic.
Coincidentally, the chap on the right of the picture is a very good friend of ours, an ordinary sized very active man at a wedding carrying a bunch of flowers who also happens to be type 2 diabetic.
Obesity is only one of the risk factors for type two diabetes along with:
You are over 40 (or over 25 if you are South Asian)
You have a close family member with diabetes (parent, brother or sister)
You are overweight, with a large waist size (over 80cm (31.5 inches) for women, 94cm (37 inches) for men, or 89cm (35 inches) for South Asian men)
Being South Asian, Black African, African Caribbean – even if you were born in the UK
You have ever had high blood pressure, a heart attack or a stroke
You’re a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome and overweight
If you’re a woman and you’ve had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby over 10 pounds
If you have a severe mental illness for which you take medication (such as schizophrenia, bipolar illness or depression)
You’ve been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.
It is almost impossible to pin down the cause of one person’s diabetes to one factor alone, and up until recently the most common cause was considered to be the aging process. I cannot deny that the increase in type two diabetes among overweight and obese people is a strong indicator that this is more of a problem than it used to be, but it is rarely the sole cause.
Both of my grandparents on my Mum’s side were diabetic, diagnosed in their 60s. Neither of them were overweight, neither of them had a bad diet. If fact my Grandad followed guidelines so strictly that he even chewed his food the number of times that was at one time recommended by the government to aid digestion.
What I am trying to say is it is ridiculous and unfair to make assumptions based on one piece of information. Just as it is crazy to blame one factor for the contraction of a disease.
I do not deny that improving diet and reducing weight will reduce one risk factor significantly and therefore reduce overall risk dramatically (and it has numerous other health benefits…) But diabetes is in no way a preventable disease. Just as you can’t give yourself diabetes by eating too much sugar, you can’t rule it out by cutting sugar out the best you can do is reduce the risk. Read more about it here.
I also concede that of all the risk factors, it is the one that people have the most control over. It is easier to change your lifestyle than your genetic make up… therefore the advice to people concerning losing weigh to reduce the risk is in no way to be ignored!
The thing that worries me most about these perceptions of diabetes is the psychological effects it can have on a newly diagnosed person (or a not so newly diagnosed person).
Imagine being told that you have a condition that is going to be difficult to manage and can have serious complications, only to be made to feel that it was somehow your fault and that you could have prevented it if you only lived your life better.
Imagine having to justify a condition and constantly explain to people that you are not just suffering the aftereffects of in irresponsibly high sugar intake.
I have read recently that there are people who are uncomfortable and unwilling to tell people of their diagnosis for fear of being made to feel like it was their own fault.
This is unfair.
This is another pressure placed on people by society that is both unnecessary and damaging.
This is true whether the person with the diagnosis is overweight or not!
All I ask is you think before you assume.
If you hear the word Diabetes, do not automatically assume obese.
It is not that simple
If you here the word diabetic do not automatically assume it was their own fault