For the past several days, we've been watching with interest how our Diabetes Community responds to the latest "diabetes misconception kerfuffle" kicked off by fitness company CrossFit.
You've probably heard some rumblings about this, unless you were living under a Coke truck -- I mean boulder -- for the past week. For background's sake: Crossfit riffed on the Coke “Open Happiness” campaign by changing the tagline to read “Open Diabetes,” and CrossFit's chief executive added in his own color that just made it worse.
First responders called out the company demanding the insensitive and misinformed message be taken down, and an apology be issued. Even pop star Nick Jonas chimed in, saying "Not Cool" and encouraging CrossFit to know the differences in diabetes types. He added,"Ignorant comments. Sensitivity to all diseases, and proper education on the cause and day-to-day battle is important."
In true arrogant form, CrossFit's chief exec sidestepped an apology and went all in, criticizing the D-Community and anyone who might assume this was anything but aimed at type 2, while also spreading more misinformation about how sugar, without doubt, is the cause of type 2 and leads to death (NOT).
The D-community's anger bubbling up across the Twittersphere, Facebook and blogs while also spilling over into mainstream media sources like People, Good Morning America, the Quartz digital business news site, and the highly-read celeb blogger Perez Hilton. Responses have come from all corners of the world, and there's now even a Change.org petition with 1,300+ supporters the call for an apology or-we'll-boycott CrossFit.
Overall, the Diabetes Online Community's reaction has been splintered, falling into a couple main camps but raising fundamental issues that touch on how we advocate, work together and send messages out to the world at large when it comes to our illness.
1. Know the differences.
2. Stop the blaming, types don't matter.
3. Nothing ever changes, so either A. Don't Bother; or B. Raise Your Voice, But Choose Your Words Carefully because... (See #1 and #2 above).
We've certainly been here before, and it sometimes seems that when it comes to misconceptions and myth-fueling, the same battles keep getting fought over and over but nothing is being accomplished.
How can we, as a community, be most effective in responding to things like this?
On one hand, we're encouraging everyone to be empowered and raise their voices, while at the same time saying "choose your messages carefully" and watch your words in order to not offend.
One of the best posts we've seen addressing this is from our friend Bea, at the Cranky Pancreas blog, titled "Open Stigma." She really hits at the heart of how this whole fiasco got out of hand, and how they so often do -- the type 1 community argues that types need to be distinguished, and in doing so is potentially throwing our type 2 brothers and sisters under the proverbial bus, by suggesting it's OK to stigmatize them as having caused their own diabetes, whereas we T1D's are innocent.
Even if not intended, the damage is done. And as a result, our D-Community comes across as divided and unable to collectively advocate -- weakening our position and how we're perceived by the very public and media we're trying to reach. It's self-defeating behavior, really.
Even the International Diabetes Federation and NCD (Non-Communicable Diseases) Alliance have chimed in, raising the point of how much the two sides intersect and overlap -- that Big Soda needs to be called out for the part it plays in overall unhealthiness, obesity and even diabetes, but our own D-Community also needs to recognize that it's not to blame as a sole cause but is just part of the problem leading to skyrocketing T2 rates globally.
One of the scientific sources pointed to during this whole debate was a Tufts University study that claims 180,000
deaths happen each year due to sugary drinks and that these beverages
lead to poorer health, chronic conditions and so on. This got mainstream media play in Forbes and the Washington Post.
Opinions may vary on all of this, but the Tufts study does show evidence that consuming sugary drinks increases one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And as anyone who drinks sugary soda frequently can tell you that it does cause some weight gain.
Cause and Effect?
We all know that in these studies, correlation does not prove cause, therefore no one can say definitively that sugary sodas cause diabetes.
In fact, the more science analyzed on this, the more it looks like the genetic and heredity issues play a bigger role than previously thought. Where you live, and the types of food and activity level are certainly parts of the equation, but family history and your genetic makeup are also important.
So, it's complicated. (One of the best posts we've seen recently about the causes of T2 comes from D-blogger Brian Cohen.)
Sadly, none of these nuances matter much to mainstream media, or marketing pros when it comes to tantalizing readers or promoting products.
And that's where our D-Community advocacy efforts become so critical.
Advocacy That Works
Sure, CrossFit got it wrong and should be called out. No denying that, IMHO.
But more importantly, I'd like to see our D-Community start changing its own way of thinking about a critical point: "Just because you're part of the Diabetes Community, that doesn't mean you 'get it' when it comes to diabetes."
Yep, we need some internal Diabetes 101, and consensus on clear messages that combat stigma without pointing fingers at each other. The public is a big ball of misconception and confusion, without question, but if we can't get our own house in order and unite on what we want the general public to know, how the hell can we ever expect the non-D public and marketing world to get it right?
For this reason, I'm super excited about the upcoming MasterLab diabetes advocacy workshop, now in its second year and set for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, just prior the annual Friends For Life conference in Orlando, FL. This gathers a group of D-Community members from online and offline for a hands-on advocacy workshop, and there promises to be discussion of this very topic on how we advocate when these nuanced topics come up.
While it's tiring to always be waging the same battles, I'm convinced that working together in a more reasoned way, we can begin to change perspectives around "sugar and diabetes" -- and other issues.
Whenever someone searches for "sugar (or soft drinks) cause my diabetes" and comes upon this CrossFit issue online, the hope is that they'll also pull up the DOC responses that counter the misinformation they've just read. And just maybe, learn a little something about this disease and what it means to live with it.
If you're inclined to read what others in the DOC are saying on this issue, here's a list of blog posts we've seen so far. If you know of any others, please leave a comment below and let us know!
- The JDRF responds to CrossFit: http://jdrf.org/2015/07/jdrf-response-to-crossfit/
- Kelly Kunik at Diabetesaliciousness: http://diabetesaliciousness.blogspot.com/2015/06/dear-crossfit-my-diabetes-homies-i.html
- Bea at Cranky Pancreas: http://crankypancreas.com/?p=5386
- Lizmari at The Angry Type 2: http://theangrytype2diabetic.blogspot.com/2015/05/youre-fat-f-and-you-give-diabetes-bad.html
- Arden's Day blog: http://www.ardensday.com/blog/jonas-crossfit
- D-Mom blogger Leighann Calentine: http://www.d-mom.com/crossfit-diabetes-sugar/
- Courtney at Pancreassassin: http://pancreassassin.blogspot.com/2015/07/yes-crossfit-thing-again.html
- This one over at Shambly Chic: https://audrameredith.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/im-not-sorry-a-pancreatically-challenged-redheads-lament/
- Andy at We Were Promised Hoverboards: http://wewerepromisedhoverboards.blogspot.com/2015/06/a-little-information-can-be-dangerous.html
- Renza in Australia, at Diabeteogenic: https://diabetogenic.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/how-to-be-a-dick/
- Tom Karlya at the D-Dad blog: http://diabetesdad.org/2015/07/02/site-aim-fire-but-hit-the-right-target/
- Lee Ann Thill at Advocados and Glitter: http://avocadosandglitter.com/crossfit-diabetes-and-ableism-a-different-conversation/
- Anna Floreen at Glu: https://myglu.org/articles/crossfit-controversy
- Steve Richert at Living Vertical: http://livingvertical.org/dear-crossfit-sugar-doesnt-cause-diabetes/ and this second post, "Dear Diabetes Community: CrossFit Doesn't Matter."
- Also, a featured discussion on Richert's Living Vertical podcast --- http://livingvertical.org/podcast/ep-19-crossfit-and-diabetes-when-is-enough-enough/
- Danie at Letter 2 Self: http://letter2self.com/in-other-news-crossfit-wins-the-douche-bag-award-of-the-week/
- Lynda at Not Dead Yet Me: http://notdeadyetme.com/so-what-should-crossfit-do-now/
- D-Mom Tina Ghosn writes at Stick It With Sugar: http://www.stickwithitsugar.com/2015/07/02/solidarity/
- D-Dad Jim Robertson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/calling-out-greg-glassman-crossfit-jim-robertson?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share
- Scott Strange of Strangely Diabetic: http://strangelydiabetic.com/2015/07/07/shame/
- Brad Slaight of the Diabetes Hero Squad creates a video parody featuring... insulin creator Dr. Frederick Banting himself!
- Riva Greenburg has this article at Huffington Post.
- Quinn Phillips at Diabetes Self Management: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/the-crossfit-uproar/
- D-Mom Stefany Shaheen wrote an opinion piece for CNN, "CrossFit tweet dangerously wrong on diabetes."
- Guest podcast by D-Mom Aileen Grabill: http://www.ardensday.com/juicebox-podcast/crossfit24
- Diabetes Mellitus Man over on his T1 Journey blog: https://lgraber81.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/educate-yourself-about-diabetes/
- Stephen Shaul at the Happy Medium blog: http://happy-medium.net/2015/07/22/how-to-react-how-not-to-react/