We probably don't need to tell you that the Diabetes Online Community is all abuzz over the full-page ad that JDRF ran in The New York Times and in The Washington Post last week. It's quite the shock campaign... and most of the buzz has been about that 1 in 20 statistic. Can it possibly be accurate that so many people with diabetes die of low blood sugar?!
JDRF stands behind the statistic, citing multiple studies, while some observers balk that "this 'fact' appears to be based almost entirely on one author's (Dr. Cryer's) interpretation of a variety of studies done by others."
We agree with Mike Hoskins and many others that it's not about the exact number. Every person who dies of low blood sugar is one too many.
We also agree with Laura Houston and many others about the need to be bold.
Kudos to JDRF for doing that, at least. They've certainly gotten the attention of people who care about diabetes! And hopefully also from others who didn't know they needed to care until they saw this eye-catching campaign...
On the other hand, I find it somewhat upsetting to see parents of kids with diabetes commenting that an ad like this "scares the living crap out of me." I'm sure that's not exactly what JDRF had in mind. In fact, CEO Jeffrey Brewer and Artificial Pancreas project director Aaron Kowalski (both with very personal connections to type 1 diabetes) insist that the ad was aimed at lobbying the FDA for faster approval of life-saving technologies like the CGM system with low-glucose suspend capabilities.
Here's where we have to side with the critics, though, I'm afraid: is an ad really going to motivate the FDA? An agency embroiled in its own politics and problems? And also one that shouldn't be swayed by advertising, generally speaking?
I guess what I'm saying is that we have mixed feelings over here. On the one hand, we love that JDRF "went for it," with a message that clearly shouts, "We Need Help!!"
On the other hand, we do wonder if spending huge amounts of money on a one-time shock campaign has any lasting effect.
I can't help thinking that for lasting effect, we still need unity in this community, and yes... a rah-rah positive side to our advocacy efforts that we can use to attract "outsiders" to think and care about this cause for longer than the few moments it takes to wince at a scary statistic.
Clearly, D-blogger critic Jenny Ruhl speaks some folks' minds when she comments, "People feel good for wearing bracelets, lighting candles, buying products, marching with signs, etc, but this accomplishes nothing (except in some cases to raise sales of the products with ribbons supplied by cynical corporations whose actual contributions to the cause turn out to be tiny). None of these awareness campaigns result in real information being given to the public about the condition. People with the condition are only spotlighted if they are courageous, upbeat, and, of course, alive. Real diabetes awareness would involve educating people with diabetes about the best ways to treat their condition."
Other people are out there shouting "it's time for a cure!" Of course it is.
But how do you expect to get there — either to the cure or to "real diabetes awareness" — without ongoing (and yes - upbeat and rah-rah-let's-wear-Blue Circles) activism? That's what sticks in people's minds, and on their lapels, what gets them to donate those extra dollars at the supermarket, and to perk up when they hear the world "diabetes," because THEY feel involved.
So let's do the shock campaigns now and then. Absolutely.
But inbetween, as advocate Aliza points out, let's keep the momentum going with "the wear blue, postcard, and World Diabetes Day things (that) bring attention and unity to Diabetes. Yes, we need the low glucose suspend and APP, but we also need people to recognize that we as a community need these things, and what we go through on a daily basis."
People aren't going to get magically educated about diabetes, Jenny, not about the day-to-day survival act, or the difference between type 1 and type 2, or the dangers of DKA, or any of it, unless we make that education happen. And that means first we need to get people's attention. And scaring them occasionally only goes so far. So as a community, let's take it from here, please.
We're making that our goal for National Diabetes Awareness Month, anyway.