World Diabetes Day: Present, Past, and Future

 A very happy (and hopefully blue-colored) World Diabetes Day, Everyone!

Of course, this annual celebration was placed on this particular day thanks to its historical D-significance as the birthday of co-creator of insulin, Dr. Frederick Banting, who was born on Nov. 14, 1891 -- and would be celebrating his 122nd birthday here in 2013 if we were alive today! (In fact, the Banting Homestead in Canada just opened a new education center in conjunction with World Diabetes Day this year.)

So, we raise a Diet Coke (or Fresca) in his honor today, while marking another World Diabetes Day, which dates back more than two decades, but really started getting traction in 2006 when the United Nations adopted a resolution making it an official day of observance.

Gauging the Impact of World Diabetes Day

Today, we wanted to take a closer look just how the World Diabetes Day awareness campaign has evolved through the years, and what kind of impact is it having? So guess what? We were able to track down the D-Mom who started it all... AND interview the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) itself about how they view the success of this effort.

From the Mind of a D-Mom

You may remember the name Kari Rosenfeld, a D-Mom from Oregon who was actually the main force behind the UN Resolution and the whole awareness campaign behind World Diabetes Day. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Kari and her daughter Clare's (a type 1 dx'd in the mid-90s at age 7) initial pitch to the IDF on the idea of a UN Resolution, aimed at bringing more worldwide attention to this illness.

We've recounted the story before, but Kari gives us the inside dish on some specifics about how WDD/Blue Circle campaign as we know it first came to be:

  • They took the idea of a UN Resolution to Professor Martin Silink, who led the IDF at the time in 2003 and was attending the organization's annual meeting in Paris, France.
  • Without his leadership, Kari says none of the rest would have been possible.
  • She took on the role of project manager handling all aspects of achieving the new resolution, along with the Unite for Diabetes public awareness campaign built around it aimed at "going beyond so many mixed messages about diabetes and create a unified campaign that could embrace them all."

But what kind of universal symbol should be used? Kari says she wanted whatever was chosen to be as simple and recognizable as the boy and girl logos on bathroom doors, or what the pink ribbon has become for breast cancer. A five-person team worked on developing a symbol that could be used in all countries and cultures and would reflect a sense of unity.

"We agreed that it would be blue, needed soft edges (harsh edges might be unfavorable in some countries), could not have letters or numbers for international purposes, and needed to be easy to reproduce," Kari says.

She says it was Alain Baute, a D-Dad who worked in IT for IDF at the time, who came up with the actual Blue Circle concept, which was based on the idea of a bubble.

"He thought of it when he was bathing his child. He said he was thinking of the bubble in the insulin bottle, and thought it might work." The creative team redefined that initial concept, made the bubble thicker and more pronounced... and eventually what came from all that was the new international symbol of diabetes, the BLUE CIRCLE!

Here's the official description, as to why the blue circle:

"The colour blue reflects the sky

that unites all nations and is the colour of the United Nations flag.

The blue circle signifies the unity of the global diabetes community in

response to the diabetes pandemic."

Plus, this:

"A simple blue circle because of the circle's frequent occurrence in nature and because myriad cultures over time have used the circle to symbolize life, mother earth and health. The unbreakable unity it represents mirrors the global diabetes community ..."

"From the start, we knew that if you don't get an observance day, you don't get a voice," Kari said about World Diabetes Day. "We got that, and it's a magic day. The IDF has made great strides, and it's laid the groundwork for creative ideas and programs."

In mid-2009, Kari took a step back from the IDF and bigger D-Community. Her sister had recently died from breast cancer and in June 2009, her daughter got married. So it was time for a break, she says. And keep in mind: at that time, the Diabetes Online Community was still nascent and certainly hadn't exploded into the hundreds of blogs, initiatives, and social media channels that we enjoy now.

About four years after stepping back, Kari is now excited about stepping back into the D-Community with some new ideas. This is all her, not Clare -- who is now 27, married, and studying public health at Harvard! What inspires Kari the most is to see grassroots initiatives like DSMA, the Big Blue Test, and so many others embrace the Blue Circle and develop WDD advocacy campaigns.

Kari says she's heard through the years that WDD and all this "blue talk" was getting stagnant, but she doesn't believe that's true after seeing what the DOC and other patient advocates have accomplished, and how many worldwide efforts there now are to raise public awareness.

"The momentum is there, and I do see it becoming a reality that we acheive mainstream awareness along the lines of the bathroom door logos or color pink," she said. "And not just in November, but all year long!"

It's great to hear passion from the "Mother of World Diabetes Day," but what's the official word on how things have been going?

The IDF Says...

We reached out to the IDF to ask them about the organization's perspective on how World Diabetes Day has evolved through the years, where it stands now, and how it will move forward. We haven't yet connected with the IDF's new CEO Petra Wilson, who just came on board Nov. 7, 2013, but we did speak with WDD campaign communications head Lorenzo Piemonte. Here's what he tells us:

DM) Does IDF believe its gotten sufficient pickup on the Blue Circle campaign?

LP) We would say that a large portion of our membership (over 200 national diabetes associations in more than 160 countries) adopts the blue circle in some form in their awareness activities and that many other diabetes-related groups and individuals have embraced the symbol. Evidence supporting this is the number of requests we receive to use the symbol and the many visual examples of how the symbol is used in relation to diabetes around the world.

What about in the United States?

In the US and Canada, JDRF has been by far the most supportive of the big organizations in promoting the symbol (and celebrating World Diabetes Day), although we recognize that it has not been embraced like in other countries. Encouragingly, in recent years we've seen an increase in requests to use the symbol from smaller diabetes groups and health professionals in the US. Other IDF campaigns, such as our Pin a Personality campaign, seem to have particularly helped in engaging Americans to recognize the symbol.Recently one of our member associations pinned the President of Mexico and we have also pinned Kofi Annan and celebrities like Jamie Oliver. We are on a mission to also get Tom Hanks to wear the Blue Circle.

How are you going after Tom Hanks, following his news about being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?

As a first step, our Young Leaders will be writing to Tom Hanks' team to ask him to wear the blue circle in public as a simple way to raise diabetes awareness. Public figures who are open about their diabetes are incredibly important as they give a very visible face to diabetes and can help reduce stigma and discrimination around the disease.

OK, the D-Community is one thing. But how do you actually gauge public awareness?

World Diabetes Day is well-established in many countries but it's hard for us to say how effective the campaign is and has been in changing public awareness of and attitudes towards diabetes, which is the ultimate goal. We can only say that awareness is on the rise in terms of the exposure that World Diabetes Day and the blue circle are receiving but work still needs to be done in terms of getting the campaign firmly recognized in the mainstream.

Red (for AIDs) and Pink (for breast cancer) was also the inspiration for us when we introduced the blue circle back in 2006. We're not there yet in terms of mainstream recognition of the link between blue and diabetes, but we're encouraged by how the symbol is increasingly used as a way of generically identifying diabetes. Examples include in books and academic papers, on apps and other published materials that address the topic of diabetes. A common request we receive (from non-diabetes-related organizations or businesses) is to use the symbol to identify so-called 'diabetes-friendly' menus which for us is an indication that awareness of the symbol is increasing among a general audience. Big celebrity support is still missing but we're making headway with the rising number of public individuals (actors, politicians, journalists, musicians, TV personalities) who are being made aware of the symbol thanks to the efforts of our community.

So how does IDF measure "success" for World Diabetes Day and its other campaigns?We usually measure the effectiveness of a campaign in terms of the number of people who request, translate, reproduce or purchase our materials and merchandise, visit our website, follow us on social media and organize activities using the key messages and visuals of the campaign. With regards to yearly initiatives like the Blue Monument Challenge, we measure success by the number of people who take part and engage in the campaign. For Take a Step we have reached the target that we set in May — 371 million steps — and can say that the campaign has been a success with close to 600 registered users. Significantly, we have examples of organizations dedicating hours and manpower to submitting their activities on our online platform. Our Pin a Personality campaign has been by far the most successful, with over 1,000 individual requests for blue circle pins this year and over 600 personalities from all over the world featured in our online gallery. It is by far the initiative that engages our community the most and has attracted a new audience.

The Blue Monument Challenge is a visually exciting part of the awareness push. How has that evolved?

 We currently have over 200 activities displayed on our global events map, which only includes information that is sent directly to us. We no longer count the blue lightings separately as we don't promote this initiative as much as in the past. It is still popular however and some countries (eg, Japan, with over 100 lightings) continue to make it one of the core activities that they organize. We're happy this year to welcome back some iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House, Brandenburg Gate and the Little Mermaid, which will be going blue again.

Are people also 'going rogue' with blue awareness campaigns?

 We see a great deal of creativity around using the color blue to raise awareness. Examples include blue fashion shows to raise funds for diabetes research or individuals wearing blue body suits throughout November to raise awareness in their community. A particularly nice activity organized last year by our member association in Ireland involved volunteers walking through the streets of Dublin with a large blue circle and placing it on important landmarks and people along the way. We are also increasingly seeing attempts made at breaking Guinness World Records on World Diabetes Day (eg, largest human circle, most blood glucose tests).

The "Magic Day" Goes On

We look forward to seeing where it all goes, and in the meantime we couldn't be more proud of how the DOC has blossomed and continues connecting people in new and innovative ways.Wherever you are, and whatever advocacy you're engaged in, we hope it's a good day in whatever part of the world you happen to be in!

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Originally published on DiabetesMine


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