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Diabetes Type 2

Misunderstandings about diabetes

There are 3.5 million people in the UK who have diabetes and yet some people we spoke to said that diabetes was poorly understood by society as a whole (Diabetes UK 2016). Several people expressed the view that they wanted some commonly-held myths and misconceptions about diabetes to be corrected. 

The current media portrayal of diabetes as a 'disease of fat people' was said by some people to be stigmatising and potentially damaging to their morale. Several people felt that the links made in the media between 'the obesity crisis' and diabetes was too simplistic. While they acknowledged that obesity was one of several possible contributory causes of diabetes, they said it was wrong for obesity to be portrayed as the main cause of diabetes. Many people said that they knew people with diabetes who were not overweight or obese.

 

Helen feels that media stories linking rising obesity levels with diabetes are counterproductive...

Helen feels that media stories linking rising obesity levels with diabetes are counterproductive...

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 60
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And I don't know, the research is, the research always seems at the moment, and it's something that does irritate, and the television really irritates me about the fact that they always say things like, 'Diabetes is exploding because the society is obese.' And it's that thing, I feel like saying, 'But I wasn't.' And people are saying, 'Oh, she certainly''.You know, if you've put down, 'Oh, she must have been some size.' And that really, you know, as you can see over there, that was me at, at you know. I've never been anything other than roughly the size, maybe 4 or 5 pounds, but that was all. But they always try to make out, you know, 'It was your fault. You, you ate too much.' And I don't think that is, I don't, I think that's counterproductive. And I think the, the media and the press, yes, we have a terrible problem in the world of obesity. And yet people will say that on the whole people are not eating a lot more calories. So it's what's in the food that's doing the problem. But there's ways of being able to say, 'You know, you didn't, you didn't cause it.' I mean that's the only thing which really I find so negative. And maybe just because I feel it wasn't mine, that wasn't what caused mine.

 

Andy finds the language of media reports offensive and stigmatizing.

Andy finds the language of media reports offensive and stigmatizing.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 52
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And do you do you have any thoughts about diabetes is portrayed in the media?

Yes. It's 'a disease for fat people - fat couch potatoes'. 'It's a social disease' - is what everybody says. Everything you read. I don't think I fit into the category.

So do you think the media misportray it? Misrepresent it?

Yes.

Can you think in particular of any examples somewhere an article you've read or something you've seen on telly that you think they've got very badly wrong?

I don't know so much that they've got it very badly wrong, it just irritates me when they go on and say' Let me give you an example. There's been a lot of fuss recently about avandia particularly in America, about how it causes an increase in heart problems. And you'll read an article in the Times on-line, or the Boston Globe on-line or whatever, and in the course of the article it will explain to you what diabetes is - 'Diabetes is an illness that fat people get. Diabetes is prevalent amongst overweight people and the clinically obese', and all this that and the other'.

And they always make a point of saying that and how it's 'a social plague' and all this that and the other. And you just read it time and time again and that is, with a little 'd', depressing because I think there has to be more to it than that.

I know that I was perfectly fine December 2005. Six months later I'm have diabetes very. Now, did I get a virus? I don't know, nobody's ever tried to find out where I got it from. I'm not overweight. I'm 6'2' and fifteen and a half stone - I could do with losing about a stone but I'm not hugely overweight. I'm a little bit overweight. I don't sit down and do absolutely nothing, I just don't do a lot of exercise because of the pain.

I don't throw lots of pain killers down my neck so it not a reaction to pain killers. I take fewer pain killers than most people I know, because I'm so used to the constant level of pain it's only when it gets to excruciating that I have to take something. So, I don't know where it's come from and it makes me angry when I read' It makes me angry that I've caught something that appears to be a social stigma - that's the way it's portrayed. I might as well have a sexually transmitted disease to be honest. That's how I feel. And yes that makes me feel, I'm getting all angry. That makes me angry.

So you feel stigmatised by it?

Yeah but only because of the way it's portrayed. My GP doesn't treat me that way. Nobody in the health service treats me that way' It's just the way it is in the press.

 

Nicky knows many people with diabetes who are not overweight and believes that the main cause is...

Nicky knows many people with diabetes who are not overweight and believes that the main cause is...

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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I really do not believe that obesity is a primary cause of diabetes. For a start, I know lots of obese people who do not have diabetes. I also know a fair number of diabetic people who have never in their lives been overweight. What seems to be the direct link is how much truncal fat you have. How much fat there is around your middle and, and coating your organs. But the direct link, obese-and-diabetes link, I think is completely the other way round than the normal take on it. Obesity causes insulin-resistance, I think most obese people actually do have insulin-resistance, and therefore are probably putting a strain on their pancreas. But unless they have the additional defect in their pancreas, that people with diabetes have as a gene-related thing, it's not going to do any harm at all. They are not going to tip over and have the, the huge loss of beta cell function that diabetics do.

So what do you think caused yours then?

I think I have a genetic problem that runs throughout everybody I know in my father's family now looks like they are diabetics. My mother's family, nobody has diabetes that we know of, but my mother was a very small apple shaped person who died in her early seventies of effectively a heart attack.

Many felt that the media discusses type 2 diabetes in an exaggerated and alarming way. Some felt that a more constructive approach would be to promote healthy lifestyles for all rather than sensationalising the potential harm of diabetes to certain groups of people.

 

Gugu points out that the emphasis placed by the media on diabetes and obesity sends out the wrong...

Gugu points out that the emphasis placed by the media on diabetes and obesity sends out the wrong...

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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When you think about diabetes, people think [of] 'being fat', because every time they mention obesity, they mention diabetes, on the media, every single time. So obviously you interpret that everybody who is diabetic is fat... And it's not the fact that I have... I know people who are slim with diabetes, but it's just that you just get used to that image. And I think people get used to, that's what they think in their head. I'm sure if I spoke to someone on the phone and said I have diabetes, they'd think, 'Oh she must be fat, she must be obese.' Do you know what I'm saying? Because that's just all you hear these day. 'Obese - Diabetes' You know and'

And how do you feel about that? Do you feel that's a bit of a stereotype? I mean does that annoy you?

I mean I don't spend so much time thinking about it, but if I do think, I think, oh that's a bit'I think it's sending across the wrong signal because you can be diabetic and not be, it's not necessarily' I mean, obviously weight does play a part but it's not the only contender, do you know what I mean? It's not, so I just don't think I just wish people would send out the right messages about healthy eating and eating healthily no matter what size you are, you know.

 

Pamela thinks it would be more constructive to promote healthy lifestyles for everyone than to...

Pamela thinks it would be more constructive to promote healthy lifestyles for everyone than to...

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 50
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...I don't think I have very strong feelings, but I do think I would like to see it more of a less of a health thing and more of a lifestyle. I think it might appeal to different groups of people. I mean some people like it to be a health issue. They like it, they like the idea they have a health condition. I would like to see a lot more, a lot more attention given to the prevention of it. How can you, what can you do in your life? I mean thats getting a bit better, but I think it would be really, really good.

I mean at the moment they're saying, you know, there's an advert in some of the papers saying 'If you're Afro-Caribbean, or age such and such or this weight or your waist measures this, go and get a blood test for diabetes, you may be have diabetes. But that's such a, that is such a negative, it seems to me quite a negative approach. You know, yes, you might need that, but it would be have you thought about changing your eating to include this, or that, sort of being a bit directive, but allowing a choice.

Another myth about diabetes that needed to be put right, according to some people, was the mistaken assumption that people with diabetes should never eat sugar in any form, and that having diabetes was a matter of avoiding biscuits, puddings and sweets. Several people said that it might help prevent diabetes if young people could be better informed about food.

 

Mo says most of the people she works with don't understand much about diabetes and tend to make...

Mo says most of the people she works with don't understand much about diabetes and tend to make...

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 51
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I mean do you, supposing you were to go to somebody's house for dinner or something, for a meal, would you tell them that you had diabetes or, would like, would you'?

Not make a point, but you know maybe just, if it's obvious if someone really, if it offered something that you think, 'Oh no, it'd be better not to have that, or just have a little bit and see', or you know, there's nothing contagious about it I would say so it wouldn't hurt to say, and equally you don't have to say, if you don't want to. But other than what you're gonna consume you just say, 'Well I actually have diabetes so, I'll just have a little bit rather than a big portion, or not have that, you know maybe have a piece of fruit or something'. Not because you have diabetes but you don't want your sugar level to you know go the other way so that you go hypo or whatever.

I mean at work they'll say 'Oh, anybody want a biscuit, oh no you'd better not have that.' And I said, 'Well yeah I can have, you know, one or two.', but there's like people don't know, a lot of it is if you're ignorant isn't it, to what it means. But you shouldn't have to change what you do other than, do it in moderation.

And in your experience have you come across any kind of myths to do with diabetes?

I suppose but, I haven't really had it that long but, but a lot of people say, again what I was saying you know, 'You've got sugar', and what they don't, themselves know what it means. And sometimes they just say there's two types but they don't know what the differences are. Why do you need to inject yourself when, you know, there are tablets. But yeah I would say that a lot of people don't really know, but you don't need to know if you don't, you don't need to know if you don't know, you don't have to know in't it, unless you've got someone a bit with the symptoms.

There was also confusion, even among some of our respondents about the difference between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Some suspected that type 2 was less serious than type 1, and that it was only people who had type 1 who were prescribed insulin. 

 

Wasim has tried to work out for himself why he was diagnosed with type 2 as opposed to type 1...

Wasim has tried to work out for himself why he was diagnosed with type 2 as opposed to type 1...

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 28
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Okay, so you had your treatment in hospital. Now who, you say you went onto insulin straightaway?

They weren't sure at first, they weren't sure whether or not I was a type 1 or type 2, and to be fair from everything I read from the Diabetes UK stuff and research that's been passed to me by family members etc. and stuff I've done on my own, there's no sort of in-between stage like a 1.5 or something. You know, it's either a 1 or a 2, and if they never sure, they'll always stick you as a 2, just to be safe, rather than go on the cautious side.

Several men expressed the view that there was 'too much' emphasis on the possible complications of diabetes such as retinopathy and neuropathy (eye and feet problems). One man said he considered much of the information he had received as 'government propaganda' aimed at controlling his lifestyle; and another man said he felt that if people were repeatedly told they might lose sensation in their feet, they would begin to imagine it for themselves. 

Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated March 2016.

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