In a time when content streaming platforms have exploded in popularity, a new viewing option has emerged for those in the pancreatically challenged community, where blood sugar checks and insulin dosing are the norms: Diabetes TV.
Previously known for its fashionable diabetes bags and carry cases, the company has now expanded to become a provider of diabetes-themed programming.
There’s a lot to explore, even in the early days of Diabetes TV: cooking lessons, workout routines, how-to’s on travel and beach-going with diabetes, men- and women-focused “real talk,” documentaries on global life with diabetes, and even fictional creations like “The Diabetes Bachelor” and an animated special titled “Chasing the Unicorn.”
Kyrra Richards is the force behind Myabetic. Her type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis came at age 24 in 2007, after returning home from a dance tour for military troops in Afghanistan.
After her diagnosis, Richards remembers hiding her standard-issue black supply case to not broadcast her new chronic condition to those around her.
Those emotional struggles led her to not checking her blood sugars as needed or managing her T1D as well as she could have.
“I lacked the confidence to expose my diabetes,” she said. “I was scared of negative perceptions and wanted to feel normal. I needed a change. My insecurity was dangerous to my health.”
Creating Myabetic in 2011 was a way to tackle that, not only for herself but for others living with diabetes.
The typical representation of diabetes at the time often felt wrong and unfair to her, so she aimed to develop fun and snazzy diabetes gear — carrying cases, bags, wallets, and appealing accessories — to personalize one’s diabetes lifestyle, helping on the psychosocial front as well as being in style.
Today, Myabetic offers dozens of products. Most of the bags offer specific diabetes-design aspects, such as pockets for used test strips or syringes, or various zip pouches for storing different supplies.
“Myabetic products represent the beauty of our community,” Richards said. “Together, we can define a new image, controlling our health with personal style.”
You can often find Myabetic represented at diabetes events (in person or virtual) throughout the country. The company also works with various diabetes industry companies to promote awareness and inspirational campaigns.
“We’ve always tried to stay close to our mission of transforming the image of diabetes and connecting the community, and we were asking, what’s next?” Richards told DiabetesMine.
It’s no surprise that Myabetic is the company to take this leap into streaming, given Richards’ personal background.
She grew up as a dancer and was doing tours for the military overseas before her diagnosis, but she also worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles for a time.
Her professional highlights include Nickelodeon, Spike TV, BET, and working with actors, athletes, singers, and celebs like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, ZZ Top, Jessica Biel, Tracy Morgan, Shaquille O’Neal, Carrie Ann Inaba, the Jonas Brothers, and Carmen Electra.
Richards has worked on music videos, commercials, premieres, stage productions, print campaigns, and concerts.
So for Richards, starting a streaming diabetes network wasn’t a huge stretch — especially with the COVID-19 crisis sheltering much of the world indoors and leading many to turn to online streaming and binge-watching to keep occupied.
With a growing social media following, Myabetic routinely saw a jump in interaction and interest whenever they shared a fun video. That sparked an idea.
“It was so well received, and we saw that this community was starved for some beautifully produced content,” Richards said.
“We loved doing those YouTube videos, and we wanted to take it to the next level… something premium that felt special and had that intimate feel, so it’s not a one-off moment in a TV show or movie where we just get a quick glimpse of diabetes,” she said.
Even before COVID-19, the plan was to launch Myabetic Diabetes TV in 2020.
“And then the world happened, and it became even more cemented that this was something we had to do — especially with in-person events being canceled, taking away one place where people often find those connections and support and listen to other people’s stories,” Richards said.
“We felt it was important to have an intimate place where people with diabetes could go and find tons of choices of content, especially in these days of so many streaming services.”
Richards thinks back to her own T1D diagnosis in her mid-20s, and how she didn’t know anyone else with diabetes and felt alone.
Having something like Diabetes TV available could have meant the world in those early days, as a way to hear from others who “get it” and enable people with diabetes (PWDs) to feel more secure and confident in their own lives.
“All of that learning was tough when I was diagnosed, but especially hard was understanding what it meant to be a person with diabetes, functioning in this world,” she said.
But Richards notes this isn’t a streaming service that tells PWDs how many carbs to eat, or even what the best way of eating might be.
It’s not a medical platform in any way, but “an extension of our brand which speaks to that lifestyle side of diabetes.”
The Diabetes TV lineup
There are tons of choices in the lineup in just the first few months of Myabetic’s TV existence.
All the initially released programs are short, ranging from 3 to 7 minutes, except for one “Diabetes in Uganda” documentary that clocks in at 14 minutes.
There’s a fun “Ballad of the Diabetic Desperado” Western-themed short with the appropriately attired protagonist battling characters that represent high and low blood sugars. It’s clearly satire and has tongue-and-cheek references to many aspects of life with diabetes, but it does the job well in a few minutes.
There’s also a show with a secret agent with diabetes and a fun animation showcasing different parts of the D-Life.
Other episodes feature real-life PWD advocates talking about serious topics including pregnancy, men’s health, dating and diabetes, and stigma and sexuality.
Other episodes offer tips on travel, cooking yummy meals, or getting exercise and doing specific workout routines from home.
“You can be sitting at home on the couch, just hearing different diverse perspectives… whether it’s something more fun, or a serious issue you are facing,” Richards said. “Maybe you invite family members to watch who have a different perspective that you don’t always hear and isn’t as comfortable to bring up.”
Richards recalls the story of developing a Myabetic Diabetes TV program. Her dad and sister were in the same room while she was checking on the sound and video quality.
It was one of the “real talk” episodes about how it feels to live with diabetes every day and deal with that daily stress.
Her dad and sister turned to Richards and asked, “Is that how you feel?” She wasn’t looking to have that conversation then, but it sparked a great family discussion all because of that particular episode.
You can find the free Myabetic Diabetes TV app online on a plethora of platforms and mobile devices: iOS, Google Play, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, and Roku.
And it’s all available at no cost. That’s important to Richards, who points to the high costs of insulin, diabetes supplies, and healthcare overall (especially in the United States) that already put such a burden on PWDs.
The service is funded mainly via advertising — each program runs an ad unit from companies like Tandem and Abbott Diabetes Care — and also from in-kind donations supplemented by Myabetic.
“We knew this would be a global streaming service, and we wanted this to be a free app that anyone could download. We didn’t want this to be something you had to pay for or need a membership or subscription to see, but something that could be accessible to anyone,” Richards said.
Since launching in mid-October 2020, Myabetic Diabetes TV has been downloaded thousands of times worldwide in more than 50 countries.
Most of the people involved in Myabetic Diabetes TV have diabetes themselves or have a personal connection to this condition.
Richards said the crew in Los Angeles are also well versed in diabetes, and they hold a discussion before each production about how willing everyone may be to share personal aspects of their D-life.
Everyone is educated, and they even have low glucose snacks available, just in case.
“It’s really a diabetes-friendly space,” Richards said. “We’re making sure that this content produced for people with diabetes is also from and by people with diabetes. That helps us recognize if the tone feels the right way, and represents different perspectives that might need to be included.”
Many of the crew have been donating time, some due to COVID-19 breaks in mainstream movie and TV filming and production.
Richards said some of those people, from camera people to makeup artists, have been motivated to contribute because of family connections to diabetes. They see this as a sort of “philanthropic” good-cause effort and a way to pay it forward.
“This is really fun, to go beyond just products and people, to share these voices and perspectives on life with diabetes,” Richards said. “That part makes me happiest, and it’s a great next chapter for Myabetic.”
Myabetic is taking ideas from the diabetes online community, and Richards said Myabetic is also looking to include various perspectives from those in the community who might be professional actors, writers, and beyond.
Fill out this form to share your own ideas or volunteer to get involved with Myabetic Diabetes TV.