November 21, 2015

Diabetes Not Receiving the Attention It Deserves

During the month of June, more than 16,000 news articles mentioned cancer, while over 7,000 mentioned HIV/AIDS. Yet, diabetes was only mentioned in about 5,000. The discussion is strikingly disproportionate to the number of affected patients and potentially affected patients. The other problem about many of the articles is they do not make the distinction about the difference between the types and make education a priority.

Even Congress has been strangely silent about diabetes. I have been corresponding with my two senators and the representative, but none have expressed any anticipation of diabetes being on the agenda for 2015. I am very surprised at their willingness to discuss issues in an open manner.

It appears that Senator Reid (D - Utah) is forcing many issues and preventing others from even being discussed. The House of Representatives now has a change in leadership and it is presently unknown what will be the priorities.

I agree that diabetes is a topic receiving little conversation or even coverage in the news media. Having type 2 diabetes, I can understand that many others with type 2 do not want to talk about it in public and often with others with type 2 diabetes. There are two issues, stigma and severity, that help create the secrecy many type 2 people desire to maintain.

Stigma often stems from the belief that people bring type 2 diabetes onto themselves, a self-inflicted disease resulting from poor dietary choices and not enough activity. Meanwhile, there is a perception that type 2 diabetes is quite manageable for patients, simply a “touch of sugar” that requires taking a few pills each day, eating more vegetables, and exercising.

It is easy to say that for misunderstandings, we must start with education. As with other diseases, such as mental illness, a lack of information causes misunderstanding and judgment. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are often grouped under the same umbrella, and misconceptions are common, such as the idea that type 1 and type 2 diabetes only result from unhealthy eating habits. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where the body attacks and kills the cells that make insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more complex: genetics, ethnicity, weight, age, environment, and lifestyle factors all play important roles in risk.

Even when patients seek treatment and confront their diagnosis, they are faced with a culture of shame and blame, and the misinformed response of, “It’s your fault.” It is also true that many doctors use this response on type 2 patients.

In addition to the stigma, the burden that this disease places on individuals in terms of health and cost is often forgotten. There are the countless severe complications, including stroke, blindness, kidney disease and heart disease that make diabetes a contributing factor in many other cases of death. The difference in expense is equally dramatic. Diabetes costs totaled $176 billion in 2012 and over 200 billion in 2014.

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