How to report on diabetes & why mothers being fat did not give it to their children

If you live with diabetes or are the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes you will have experienced frustration, anger and even despair, at the way diabetes is often reported on in the media. In particular families living with type 1 diabetes cry foul when there is no distinction made between types of diabetes in articles reporting the relationship between “diabetes” and obesity. There is enough of a battle in living with type 1 diabetes and all of the misunderstandings, without perpetuating the myth that your child, or you, got type 1 diabetes because you ate too much sugar, or were fat. I have learned in my 15 years working in diabetes, that it is not just those of us with type 1 diabetes that experience this rage, it is those with type 2 diabetes as well.

Nobody should be made to feel guilty that they or their child has diabetes, no matter what type. Nobody should be told it is their own fault and that they are just too fat, too lazy, too much of a burden on society for causing their own “lifestyle disease”. I totally get the emotional reactions of the type 1 community and have it myself, but I don’t get the backlash often directed at our fellow diabetics with type 2 diabetes – we are all in it together folks.

There are often articles which make it sound like diabetes is a simple thing and that you could have prevented developing it. There is also a general “ownership” of diabetes out there, like everyone gets it, when in fact unless you live with it, you really don’t. It is seen as a simple, not hard to deal with condition. When really it is a bloody confusing, rollercoaster of a disease. The double rates of depression, high levels of distress and reduced wellbeing reflect this, and for good reason.

I get very upset therefore when I see articles like the one brought to my attention in the Adelaide Advertiser yesterday  – the reporter has since been contacted by numerous irate parents of children with type 1 diabetes, and has changed the online article, to read “type 2” diabetes, but the print version can not be changed. It is out there. It originally read that obese women who exercise during pregnancy might cut the risk their baby will be born fat and develop diabetes later in life. I am in agreement that women need to be as healthy as possible during pregnancy for the health of their baby, and that this includes trying to be fit and active. There are plenty of studies on this.

The first thing that gets me about this article is the reporting of studies in rats. RATS people. I understand the ethics of researching pregnant women and hence the rat studies, and the importance of this research. However, reporting it in mainstream media in this way is sensationalist to say the least and misguided, even if there is credit in the research.

I do remember listening to a lecture a few years back that found babies born to women with gestational diabetes, had higher risks of being overweight as children and of later having higher risks of a range of metabolic diseases, but the jury is still out on the exact reasons for this, and to whether obesity alone, without the presence of gestational diabetes, has the same impact as there are many other factors at work. Just google “children of overweight women have higher risks of diabetes” and you will get a swag of research. Here is a particularly interesting one.

However most of the research specifies type 2 diabetes, it does not lead the reader to think little Johnny at school has type 1 diabetes because his Mum was a fattie.

And while we are on it, when are we going to stop bashing fat people? I have been one. I battle with weight all the time, every day. I have to live on air to be thin. If I so dare as miss a few exercise sessions or eat an additional calorie or four, my weight creeps up. People in my family are fat and fabulous. Nobody wants to be sick, or jeered at or called names. Most people don’t set out to be fat. It is a complicated thing.

Bottom line – get your facts right, make the correct distinctions between types of diabetes and always consider the impact of your article on the reader.

If you are wondering why so many parents of children with type 1 diabetes are up in arms about this article, I will tell you – it may make a good health report for the paper. All mothers have enough guilt and the parents of children with type 1 diabetes live with so much more, and are in fact my heroes.

They are the ones wondering 24/7 if their child will fall into dangerously high or low levels of blood glucose. They are the ones walking the tightrope daily, worrying about the terrible complications of this disease, watching their child cry about how hard it all is, letting them go as they grow into teenagers but being terrified of the consequences of peer pressure, alcohol, drugs and parties. Feeling sad that they chose to hold their child back from the school camp,or the party, or wondering if they should or not. Fighting the system to ensure their child has all they need in school. Chasing their toddler to prick their tiny finger, to see what their levels are right now because they had their insulin but refused to eat. Sitting up in the night like my Mum, while I gorged on toast and milo to bring up a low blood glucose level.

Waiting for them to grow up safe. Waiting for them to get more stable levels, when the hormones settle, when the growth stage passes, when the honeymoon is over, when, when when. They are the ones waiting for something, anything to help them feel safer about their child, for their entire life. Waiting for the cure. Waiting. Definitely waiting for the media to stop printing crap articles that make them hurt and make their lives that much harder the next time their child comes home from school to say someone at school told them they just have diabetes because they were fat, or their mother was.

Waiting for understanding.

Here’s some tips all you health reporters out there

1) Always define type of diabetes – there are a few so look them up, you may learn something

2) Never report in a way that suggests it is the fault of the person with diabetes (of any type) or their parents, that they have this condition

3) Be very careful about how you report studies in rats – people with diabetes already feel like medical experiments

4) Don’t print sensationalist articles, cures for diabetes that are not cures, or fat bashing stories

5) Try speaking to an actual person living with diabetes when you run a story – it is amazing how much shit about diabetes we know

Are you annoyed about something you have seen, read or heard about diabetes? Please feel free to share

xx

Helen

Helen Edwards is the founder of diabetes counselling online and has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1979 back when all diabetics went on the I Quit Sugar diet. She is a Diabetes Educator, Counsellor with 28 years experience and completing her PhD in Medicine, looking at the experiences of pregnancy for women with type 1 diabetes. She is also a successful stylist and blogger at Recycled Interiors where she shares her passion for good design, wellbeing and sustainable living. She has 3 gorgeous sons and sleeps very little.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Chrisby on April 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I am in total agreement with you and I always take every opportunity to ‘educate ‘ when people make idiotic, crass or just ignorant comments. The sad fact is unless you have first hand experience of T1d or T2d you are just not ever going to get true acknowledgement of what it means to have to live with it. 
    My daughter was diagnosed 8 years ago, aged 12. She’d already had Coeliac Disease for 2 years. The first couple of years were challenging and we have had our ups and downs but she is now away at uni in another state and living life to the full. She has great attitude to her diet and fitness and is very disciplined in her approach to her care. I am sure that each stage of life with T1D has its difficulties and wider understanding in the community through better and accurate media reports would help us all.

  2. HeleneWild on April 10, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    you made me cry.

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