January 24, 2011

Riff on Diabetes Rift

Diabetes’ Civil War appeared in the Chicago Tribune late November. I had my eyes out for it because I was interviewed by the author. (My words seem to have ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Perhaps because they were way more educational vs. sensational – yes sizzle does sell.)

I’ve been stewing about the article for a couple of months wanting to react but in ways feeling it wasn’t my place because I don’t have diabetes. It’s now time from my vantage point as a diabetes educator.

I was quite taken aback by the anger and venom voiced by several quotees. As noted, I don’t have diabetes and don’t claim to feel what it’s like to have type 1 and have people advise you to cure yourself by living a healthy lifestyle or deal with myriad other situations encountered dealing with this challenging and relentless disease (or diseases). But, let’s face it digging for and escalating divisiveness sells more papers than getting the story straight about diabetes care today.

I’m pleased to see I’m not alone in my response. Follow the thread on www.diabetesdaily.com:

  • “This is a very divisive issue. In my opinion, PWD (persons with diabetes) don't need any additional divisiveness.”
  • "civil war". hogwash. attention grabbing headline.”

What I’m passionate about helping people with diabetes learn more about their disease and it’s management, helping educate the public at-large about today’s understanding of diabetes and how it should be managed.

Additionally I’m frequently a resource to journalists writing about diabetes. Boy do we have a long way to go raising the bar on journalists' knowledge of diabetes. The knowledge (or lack thereof) is surrounded by myths, misconceptions, and outdated information. Also some journalists, in their haste and need to simplify, often don’t get the diabetes story straight. This reality just further fosters incorrect and outdated information. Also, they’re often unwilling to specify type 1 or 2 diabetes because they say, it "takes more space" which adds fuel to the fire.

I agree that having one name for two quite different diseases creates confusion and many other issues. Over the years there have been continual attempts to clarify the name. In addition the who’s got what type of diabetes waters have become murkier – with more younger people developing type 2 and more older people developing type 1 (or Latent-Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults - LADA). The old under age 30 it must be type 1 and over 40 it must be type 2 doesn’t hold true.

Plus care and therapies have become more complex and sophisticated. The notion that type 2 diabetes can be “cured” with weight loss, healthy eating and exercise is just flat out false. In fact, there are more people with type 2 who take insulin (just in pure numbers of people) than type 1 (yes, everyone with type 1 takes insulin). And we know that if people with type 2 live long enough with diabetes they’ll likely need to take insulin twice, three or more times a day.

So, is it necessary to foster a rift, a civil war, use words like hate, and tell people with type 2 they couldn’t do what you have done for years? (People do what they need to do to stay alive in most instances.) Or make the accusation that type 1 research is being “ignored” – which is so far from the truth.

Rather than duking it out, wouldn’t it be more positive to learn from and support each other - lend an ear, offer a shoulder to cry on, give a pat on the back for every little success managing this challenging disease?

I know this sounds a bit Kumbaya-ish, but I just don’t get what or where escalating a “civil war” accomplishes. Just sayin’.