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November is National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM) in the United States, always marked by a slew of awareness campaigns and fundraising events going on throughout the month.

This effort has taken on more international importance in recent years, with the growing impact of World Diabetes Day which takes place annually on November 14 to commemorate the birthday of insulin co-discoverer Dr. Frederick Banting.

There are always a plethora of activities and campaigns underway across the globe, led by advocacy organizations as well as Pharma and med-tech companies that serve people with diabetes.

We look to the hashtags #NDAM and #WorldDiabetesDay as a resource to follow all of these efforts.

Even before hashtags were a thing, we at DiabetesMine had been covering these November initiatives at length throughout the years. Please browse through this explanation and overview of what happens when diabetes awareness becomes a national and international talking point for the month.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), National Diabetes Awareness Month was established 40 years ago in 1975, though Congress and the U.S. presidents didn’t start passing proclamations recognizing November as “diabetes month” until the early 1980s. (See this Reagan declaration in 1981.) The ADA trademarked “American Diabetes Month” in 1997.

Diabetes Awareness Month Blue Circle

This month is of course a time when diabetes organizations of all sizes launch awareness efforts, initiatives, and campaigns, many of them encouraging people with diabetes to come forward to share their stories about living with this condition with the general public.

Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic surfacing in 2020, a legitimate question arose: How relevant is a commemorative awareness month in a time of a worldwide health crisis?

We believe the need for NDAM is more important than ever because of high-stakes issues like Affordability and Access, and public awareness on those topics are at an all-time high.

Many diabetes organizations and companies launch campaigns during November, including the JDRF, Beyond Type 1, American Diabetes Association, and T1International (to name a few).

World Diabetes Day (WDD) was established by the Belgium-based International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in 1991 to call attention to this worldwide epidemic. The date of Nov. 14 was chosen to honor Banting, along with his main insulin co-discoverer, Dr. Charles Best. While it did officially exist through the 1990s and early 2000s, WDD day was largely off the radar until 2006, when the IDF successfully advocated for the United Nations to issue a resolution officially recognizing it for the first time the following year.

Clare and Kari Rosenfeld

As part of that campaign, an Oregon D-Mom named Kari Rosenfeld was working with IDF to come up with a concept for an international symbol for diabetes. She and her daughter Clare (diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 7 years old) were actually the main force behind the UN Resolution, originally pitching the idea to IDF to bring more worldwide attention to this illness.

They took the idea of a UN Resolution to Australian Professor Martin Silink, who led the IDF at the time in 2003 and was attending the organization’s annual meeting in Paris. Without his leadership, Kari says none of the rest would have been possible. She took on the role of project manager handling all aspects of achieving the new resolution, along with a “Unite for Diabetes” public awareness campaign built around it, aimed at “going beyond so many mixed messages about diabetes to create a unified campaign that could embrace them all.”

For the international symbol, they settled on the Blue Circle, meant to become as recognizable as the ubiquitous pink ribbon for breast cancer, red ribbon for AIDS, or yellow ribbon for bring-home-the-troops.

The blue hue is meant to evoke the color of the sky, and the circle embodies unity. In fact, the Blue Circle is officially known as the “Unite for Diabetes” symbol. In November 2013, we interviewed Kari Rosenfeld about the origin of the Blue Circle, and the past, present, and future of NDAM and World Diabetes Day.

The IDF chooses a theme for World Diabetes Day each year, and for 2021, they are fittingly focusing on “Access to Diabetes Care: If Not Now, When?”

They’re encouraging groups and individuals around the world to get involved by:

  • pledging support for greater access to diabetes care by signing an online petition they’ll be publishing soon
  • engaging a local or national policy-maker to ensure that all people with diabetes have access to the care they need
  • organizing a ‘Learn about diabetes’ event in local schools
  • organizing or participating in a local diabetes awareness walk
  • lighting up a local landmark, your home, or workplace in blue (a previous tradition that saw monuments from the Sydney Oprah House to the San Francisco Ferry Building illuminated in blue on Nov. 14)
  • arranging an activity that incorporates learning about diabetes with your work colleagues
  • helping people learn their potential risk of type 2 diabetes with the IDF’s online test

2021 and 2022 marked a special time: 100 years since the discovery of lifesaving insulin in 1921 and since the first-ever insulin injection into a human in 1922.

In Toronto, Canada, Banting and Best began by experimenting on diabetes-induced dogs, until one of them survived for 70 days with injections of the pancreatic extract, called “Isletin” at the time. On January 23 the following year, the first successful injection of insulin was administered to a person living with diabetes. The IDF has created a video, infographic, posters, and a number of other materials to mark this “journey to a medical miracle.”

The historic Banting House in London, Ontario, is a special place to mark NDAM and World Diabetes Day. It is known as The “Birthplace of Insulin” — a house-turned-museum where Banting lived at the time when he first dreamed up the idea of insulin to treat diabetes.

Mike Hoskins/DiabetesMine

Here are some highlights of NDAM campaigns throughout the years, as reported by DiabetesMine.

Diabetes Awareness Month Roundtable (2008). For the first time ever, the national advocacy group JDRF gathered a group of vocal diabetes bloggers to discuss November outreach activities and more. One advocate at that event noted: “Diabetes awareness is important because it translates into a greater understanding of (and by extension, compassion for) those living with the disease; an increased willingness by schools, companies, and other organizations to make accommodations when and where needed; and a larger number of people providing more vigorous support toward finding a cure.”

Help a Child in Rwanda (2010). The inspiring all-diabetic pro cycling Team Type 1 conducted a ‘Thinking Globally’ on diabetes campaign aimed at helping people with diabetes in developing countries get access to lifesaving insulin and diabetes supplies. They focused specifically on Rwanda, where life expectancy is less than 5 years with diabetes. For WDD in San Francisco that year, we also saw the kick-off of a fun new fitness program, Dance Out Diabetes.

T1 Day (2011). The JDRF kicked off NDAM on Nov. 1, 2011, with the first-ever “type 1 diabetes awareness day” program, appropriately called T1 Day. The org also had the opportunity to appear on the Today Show in New York at the start of November, while in San Francisco there were diabetes-inspired flash mobs happening.

Blogger Outreach (2012). Many in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) were “Thinking Blue, Going Blue” in November 2012, and many diabetes bloggers also recognized the eighth annual Diabetes Blog Day, in which bloggers rally around a cause. The theme in 2012 was media awareness — encouraging bloggers to write open letters to national media outlets such as the NY Times, CNN, or a local/national newspaper or TV station about why it’s so important for them to let the world know that diabetes is about more than just having overweight or eating too much sugar.

The Big Blue Test and More (2013). A new smartphone app was introduced this year for The Big Blue Test, a campaign of the now-defunct Diabetes Hands Foundation that encouraged people to check their blood sugar, be physically active for 14 minutes, and test again to see the impact of exercise on blood sugar levels. This year also marked the debut of the JDRF’s marketing campaign, “Turning Type One Into Type None.” We also saw the former World Diabetes Day Postcard Exchange grow in popularity.

Diabetes Nation + Blue Circle Apps (2014). A campaign called “State of Diabetes” was launched by a New York health insurance marketing agency, Area 23, to call attention to the massive size of the problem. The idea was that with 343 million people worldwide living with type 2 diabetes, it should be time to move beyond the UN Resolution and actually ask the UN to designate “Diabetes” as an official country on its own. Whoa! Area 23 was also filming a documentary to help raise awareness about type 2 globally. Also, the IDF introduced a new Blue Circle selfie app, along with their “Pin a Personality” initiative, promoting awareness by publicly placing Blue Circle pins on celebrities. More than 50,000 were distributed, including one to Bradley Whitford, best known for his TV role as White House exec Josh Lyman on the West Wing.

Healthy Eating Awareness (2015). The ADA and IDF focused on the theme of educating people about healthy eating. This marked the beginning of a larger, ongoing effort to recognize the fact that “a healthy eating plan is extremely important to meet blood glucose targets and avoid complications related to untreated or poorly managed diabetes.”

Diabetes Awareness (2018). That year, IDF announced a 2-year theme focus on “Family and Diabetes.” It’s a broad topic, but the IDF said the point was to raise awareness of the impact that diabetes has on the family and support network of those affected, and promote the role of the family in the management, care, prevention and education of diabetes.

Hashtag Campaigns (2019). This year, lots of orgs launched new awareness initiatives via social media, such as the ADA’s #CountMeIn campaign that encouraged people at risk for type 2 diabetes to take an online risk test and get their A1C measured at Walmart or CVS; Beyond Type 1’s #TheDropSpotted campaign aiming to make this invisible disease visible; and the JDRF’s #T1DChampions campaign to celebrate people’s accomplishments despite this illness.

The COVID-19 Year (2020). The pandemic turned everything on its head, and that included diabetes awareness efforts and World Diabetes Day. However, many of the big orgs told DiabetesMine that awareness remained ever-important even in the face of this new global health crisis.