Why We Need Diabetes Awareness Month... More Than Ever

Hello again, Diabetes Awareness Month.

Yup, November marks another national awareness month -- aimed at those in America who are pancreatically-challenged or rapidly heading in that direction. And on Nov. 14, we'll once again mark international World Diabetes Day honoring the birthday of insulin co-discoverer Dr. Frederick Banting, who was born on this day in 1891.

As always during this time of year, we've been inundated with marketing pitches from organizations big and small.

And as always around this time of year, many in our community ponder the perennial question:

Does it all matter? Really?

Admittedly, it's not outside the realm of reasonableness to question the effectiveness of NDAM (shorthand for National Diabetes Awareness Month). But our country is in a different place in 2017 compared to past years, is it not? It's a good time to set skepticism aside to argue that November's designation as Diabetes Awareness Month truly does matter -- potentially more than ever right now.

Here's why...

It's Only Getting Worse

Diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent, especially among children and teens. And that's both type 1 and type 2. And yet our government is cutting funding for diabetes at an alarming rate.  This disconnect illustrates that our legislators and the public at large just don't know or care enough about this illness... despite the fact that they're all at risk too.

Meanwhile, drug pricing has gotten so out of hand that people are literally dying because they can't afford their insulin. Middle class people. Working people. Young people. How can this be happening in a country as wealthy and sophisticated as ours?!

So yes, the notion of "raising awareness" sounds a lot less vague these days. SOMETHING'S GOTTA CHANGE, and promoting a month-long blitz of awareness messages has got to have some sort of impact, right?

Celebrity Diabetes Bashing

Two prominent "diabetes flubs" in the news come to mind:

President Donald Trump Disses Diabetes: In speaking about the Supreme Court lineup recently, Trump mentioned Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is very open about the fact that she's lived with type 1 diabetes since childhood. Despite her good health and inspiring attitude on diabetes, Trump made the blunt remark that her living with diabetes is "not good." He implied that a result, she likely won't be around on the court roster for long.

Any way you look at it, this is a totally bone-head comment and implication for the president to make, but while many will chalk it up to just another head-shaking example of Trumpness, it still serves to shape the general public's perspective on diabetes. Add in the comment Trump's Budget Director Karl Mulvaney made in May 2017 about people with diabetes choosing to have this condition and not deserving healthcare, and you have a troubling trend in how this Administration views diabetes. The takeaway for many will be that diabetes is self-induced, and renders its victims sick and disabled.

btw, at least the White House has kept up a decades-long tradition of naming November as Diabetes Awareness Month. The press office issued a statement on Nov. 1 that specifically mentioned diabetes tech like the artificial pancreas and glucose monitoring, and this continued the recognition that began with Ronald Reagan in 1982... so we have that going for us.

Jimmy Kimmel 'Jokes' About Diabetes: Some in the DOC weren't too happy to see the late-night comedian make a reference to one of his colleague's being "as sweet as diabetes" when receiving a gift of sugary cookies. This stung some folks especially since Kimmel's been elevated recently as a voice of reason on healthcare and insurance policy debates.

People took to social media and other channels to express their disappointment and frustration, and Kimmel didn't respond as tactfully as he could have. To us, this was hardly a blip on our radar in the grand scheme of all the advocacy efforts and outrages in the world right now. And yet... these small, harmlessly meant negative quips about diabetes also feed misconceptions.

These are just two very recent examples. But you don't have to look very far back to find many more -- like when CrossFit fired off stigmatizing messages, when Starbucks entered the fray, the numerous Conan O'Brien one-liners to millions of viewers, or the many movie and TV miscues and media stories that fuel myths and misconceptions. It all fits together to erode public understanding on diabetes across the board.

Of course we can't ignore the scientific fact that sugar overload and unhealthy living aren't good for anyone and can lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. People will always refer to that.

But we also can't let that lead to a cloud of misconceptions that blames patients and de-motivates policy makers and the general public to empathize with this illness.

These days, it's tough to keep a sense of humor at times and there has to be a healthy balance... can and should we joke about diabetes at any time? Well, opinions vary. But let's keep the language respectful and positive.

Words Matter in Diabetes

Speaking of which, one might say the language used in talking to and about people with diabetes is at a critical juncture.

Or so it seems since a joint panel of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) recently issued new guidelines on language used by healthcare providers. It states specifically that they should be "positive, respectful, inclusive, person-centered and strengths-based" and work toward a "collaborative approach" that recognizes people with diabetes as the primary member of their own care team (!)

The full publication can be viewed here, but here are the highlights:

  1. Use language that is neutral, nonjudgmental, and based on
    facts, actions, or physiology/biology;
  2. Use language that is free from stigma;
  3. Use language that is strengths-based, respectful, inclusive and imparts
  4. Use language that fosters collaboration between patients and providers; and
  5. Use language that is person-centered.

Props to the people involved in making this happen. Seriously, while opinions also vary on exact terminology, we certainly agree that #WordsMatter and would love to see this push for positive language go beyond the medical sphere to the public.

Maybe that's something we can focus on promoting during D-Awareness Month! 

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Originally published on DiabetesMine


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