Playing the blame game

Playing the blame game

The last time I spoke to my grandmother, she asked me what I used to drink during the heat waves in Cyprus. I told her: soda. Lots and lots of soda. This was years before I developed diabetes and could still have sugar. My granny then suggested that perhaps my soda drinking while living in Cyprus was the reason I developed diabetes. I sighed and started explaining the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. “Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder and has nothing to do with sugar intake,” I told her, “while type 2 is”…what exactly? The disease of lazy sugar-munchers? I had to stop myself. While there is almost certainly a link between the rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes, it’s far from the full explanation. Some people who develop type 2 diabetes are not overweight, and many overweight people never develop diabetes. 

Even doctors have poor knowledge when it comes to diabetes. An obstetrician once asked me how it was that I hadn’t run out of insulin a long time ago when I was diagnosed as a type 1 at the age of 36. It took me a minute to clock it, but what he couldn’t wrap his head around was how my beta-cells had been destroyed in childhood but I didn’t manifest any diabetic symptoms for all those years. He was convinced that type 1 diabetes only happened to children, even though we estimate that more than half of all type 1 diabetics get diagnosed as adults. It surprised me, but I’ve since then met several doctors who believed the same thing. 

While I don’t hold it against my grandmother that she thought consuming sweet drinks could trigger diabetes years later, it’s clear that the public is largely ignorant. We’re facing a health crisis, and better information is key to preventing it. We also need to look at the attitudes towards diabetes in our society. I’m not overweight, but if I was, I’m convinced I’d have to listen to lectures about sugar consumption all the time. Playing the blame game isn’t doing us any favors. Weight loss is a real issue for many people, and it’s not as simple as putting down the biscuits and going for a run. In my opinion, it’s immoral to blame patients for diseases potentially caused by lifestyle factors. Who gives you the right to judge the smoker that develops lung cancer or the teenager with type 2 diabetes who’s been obese since childhood? What we’re dealing with is addiction, whether it’s to cigarettes or food. Blaming patients for their behavior is not going to solve any problems.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are on the rise. And the truth is, we don’t understand the full reasons for either of them. Until we do, we should be very careful with pointing fingers.

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