Saturday, May 2, 2009

What "diabetes" means to you

Diabetes is one of those words that carries a lot of negative connotations with it. I was reminded of that just this afternoon.

The grandmother of the kids I babysit for saw me checking my blood sugar, and commented, "Aren't you young to have diabetes?"

"I'm type 1," I said. Then I added, "It's juvenile diabetes." I know the term isn't really used anymore, but a lot of older people are more likely to understand if you explain it that way.

"Oh," she said.

After the exchange, I thought about what she's said: Aren't you young to have diabetes? The way she said it reminded me of the negative connotations of the word. Most people that don't know anything about diabetes perceive it as being a disease that affects only old or fat people. Heck, that's what I thought before I was diagnosed. There just isn't much understanding of the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

And of course, because many people think diabetes only happens to old or fat people, it's viewed as something that is the person's fault — a sign of bad hygiene, like bad breath or body odor.

Of course, type 2 diabetes can be caused by a person's lifestyle choices, but that doesn't mean they are deserving of this negative attitude. Not to mention, since the average person doesn't really understand what diabetes means, the negative connotations of the word are therefore applied to all diabetics, whether they had any control over their condition or not.

The only way we can change this is to educate people about diabetes. Here's something simple you can do to begin: Explain it to the people you see every day. Often diabetics don't like to talk about their condition, because of exactly the problem I'm discussing in this post. But by educating the people around you, you contribute to the efforts to create a better informed public.

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