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Misunderstandings about Type 1 diabetes are an additional challenge

family diabetes future
family diabetes future

Dan Farrow 

Senior Manager, Community Engagement and Volunteering, JDRF

Ignorance about the causes of Type 1 are faced by those with the condition all too often. These misunderstandings can make living with diabetes even tougher.

Type 1 diabetes can be a tough condition to live with. It has an impact on many aspects of life and yet its effects are often invisible.

So, what are the facts?

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when, for reasons we don’t yet fully understand, the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This leaves you having to inject insulin every day for the rest of your life. 
  • Type 1 can strike at any age. A child diagnosed at the age of five can need more than 19,000 insulin injections before their 18th birthday. There are no days off. 
  • Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, and is not linked to lifestyle. There’s no way to avoid it.

Dealing with prejudice

Many people are treated as if they either deserved or didn’t deserve their diagnosis. One young woman wrote a blog for the JDRF website on the reactions of people discovering she has Type 1 diabetes. They include “but you’re not fat!”, “but you’re only young” and “are you allowed to eat that?”

No person should ever face a culture of blame for their health condition and this is true for all types of diabetes.  

She often has to say “no, it’s not because I ate too much sugar”.

Sadly, 67 per cent of adults living with Type 1 diabetes feel judged when eating sugary food or drinks.

An average member of the public with no friends or family living with Type 1 diabetes probably doesn’t know much about the condition, or that there are different types of diabetes. Considering how the media often speak about ‘diabetes’, perhaps many misunderstandings can be forgiven.

Representation in the media

Newspapers covering stories on Type 2 diabetes rarely specify in the headline that they’re referring to Type 2 (which is not always linked to lifestyle factors). When the headline is as sensational as “Sickly sweet: how diabetes conquered the world” (Telegraph) or “Get fit to cure diabetes” (Express) it is little wonder there is such confusion.

It’s not just the newspapers. A 2016 episode of EastEnders caused frustration when a character uttered the phrase “if the kids don’t give themselves diabetes it’s not a good party is it?”.

What’s being done to help

JDRF, and our incredible supporters, are doing what we can to raise awareness of the true nature of Type 1 diabetes and bust myths.

Despite the challenges of living with Type 1 diabetes, it doesn’t have to hold anyone back – people with the condition can achieve anything.

People living with Type 1 diabetes have represented England at Six Nations championships and Rugby World Cups1, scored while representing the England national football team2, achieved great things in stand-up comedy3, taken leading roles in Hollywood blockbusters4 and even become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom5.

As a Type 1 diabetes charity, JDRF is proud to shine a light on everyone affected by it and their achievements, from youngsters and their incredible parents, to those recently diagnosed as adults or who’ve had Type 1 almost all their life.

1 Henry Slade and Chris Pennell
2 Gary Mabbutt

3 Ed Gamble
4 James Norton
5 Theresa May

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