Hello again, Diabetes Awareness Month.
Yup, November marks another national awareness month -- aimed at those in America who are pancreatically-challenged or rapidly heading in that direction. And on Nov. 14, we'll once again mark international World Diabetes Day honoring the birthday of insulin co-discoverer Dr. Frederick Banting, who would be 126 if he were still alive today.
As always during this time of year, we've been inundated with marketing pitches from organizations big and small.
And as always around this time of year, many in our community ponder the perennial question:
Does it all matter? Really?
Admittedly last year, we published a piece questioning the effectiveness of NDAM (shorthand for National Diabetes Awareness Month). But our country is in a different place this year, is it not? And now, we're setting skepticism aside to argue that November's designation as Diabetes Awareness Month truly does matter -- potentially more than ever right now.
It's Only Getting Worse
Diabetes is becoming more and more prevalent, especially among children and teens. And that's both type 1 and type 2. And yet our government is cutting funding for diabetes at an alarming rate. This disconnect illustrates that our legislators and the public at large just don't know or care enough about this illness... despite the fact that they're all at risk too.
Meanwhile, drug pricing has gotten so out of hand that people are literally dying because they can't afford their insulin. Middle class people. Working people. Young people. How can this be happening in a country as wealthy and sophisticated as ours?!
So yes, the notion of "raising awareness" sounds a lot less vague these days. SOMETHING'S GOTTA CHANGE, and promoting a month-long blitz of awareness messages has got to have some sort of impact, right?
Celebrity Diabetes Bashing
Two prominent "diabetes flubs" in the news come to mind:
President Donald Trump Disses Diabetes: In speaking about the Supreme Court lineup recently, Trump mentioned Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is very open about the fact that she's lived with type 1 diabetes since childhood. Despite her good health and inspiring attitude on diabetes, Trump made the blunt remark that her living with diabetes is "not good." He implied that a result, she likely won't be around on the court roster for long.
Any way you look at it, this is a totally bone-head comment and implication for the president to make, but while many will chalk it up to just another head-shaking example of Trumpness, it still serves to shape the general public's perspective on diabetes. Add in the comment Trump's Budget Director Karl Mulvaney made in May 2017 about people with diabetes choosing to have this condition and not deserving healthcare, and you have a troubling trend in how this Administration views diabetes. The takeaway for many will be that diabetes is self-induced, and renders its victims sick and disabled.
btw, at least the White House has kept up a decades-long tradition of naming November as Diabetes Awareness Month. The press office issued a statement on Nov. 1 that specifically mentioned diabetes tech like the artificial pancreas and glucose monitoring, and this continued the recognition that began with Ronald Reagan in 1982... so we have that going for us.
Jimmy Kimmel 'Jokes' About Diabetes: Some in the DOC weren't too happy to see the late-night comedian make a reference to one of his colleague's being "as sweet as diabetes" when receiving a gift of sugary cookies. This stung some folks especially since Kimmel's been elevated recently as a voice of reason on healthcare and insurance policy debates.
People took to social media and other channels to express their disappointment and frustration, and Kimmel didn't respond as tactfully as he could have. To us, this was hardly a blip on our radar in the grand scheme of all the advocacy efforts and outrages in the world right now. And yet... these small, harmlessly meant negative quips about diabetes also feed misconceptions.
These are just two very recent examples. But you don't have to look very far back to find many more -- like when CrossFit fired off stigmatizing messages, when Starbucks entered the fray, the numerous Conan O'Brien one-liners to millions of viewers, or the many movie and TV miscues and media stories that fuel myths and misconceptions. It all fits together to erode public understanding on diabetes across the board.
Of course we can't ignore the scientific fact that sugar overload and unhealthy living aren't good for anyone and can lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. People will always refer to that.
But we also can't let that lead to a cloud of misconceptions that blames patients and de-motivates policy makers and the general public to empathize with this illness.
These days, it's tough to keep a sense of humor at times and there has to be a healthy balance... can and should we joke about diabetes at any time? Well, opinions vary. But let's keep the language respectful and positive.
Words Matter in Diabetes
Speaking of which, one might say the language used in talking to and about people with diabetes is at a critical juncture.
Or so it seems since a joint panel of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) recently issued new guidelines on language used by healthcare providers. It states specifically that they should be "positive, respectful, inclusive, person-centered and strengths-based" and work toward a "collaborative approach" that recognizes people with diabetes as the primary member of their own care team (!)
The full publication can be viewed here, but here are the highlights:
- Use language that is neutral, nonjudgmental, and based on facts, actions, or physiology/biology;
- Use language that is free from stigma;
- Use language that is strengths-based, respectful, inclusive and imparts hope;
- Use language that fosters collaboration between patients and providers; and
- Use language that is person-centered.
Props to the people involved in making this happen. Seriously, while opinions also vary on exact terminology, we certainly agree that #WordsMatter and would love to see this push for positive language go beyond the medical sphere to the public.
Maybe that's something we can focus on promoting during D-Awareness Month!
Organized Awareness Efforts for 2017
Here's a look at what various diabetes organizations are doing this year for NDAM and World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14. While some groups didn't respond by deadline about their plans, we expect to hear more as the month moves forward.
ADA: This year, the largest professional D-org in the U.S. is encouraging people in the diabetes community to "tell the world how this often invisible disease impacts their everyday lives and/or the lives of the people they love and support." They want people to share their stories by writing or recording a "letter to diabetes" and using the hashtag #DearDiabetes to flag them. Here's an example of what ADA has in mind. Hmmm, sounds a bit like the #IWishPeopleKnewThatDiabetes initiative that our friend Kelly Kunik started a couple of years back, no?
Also from the ADA, while it's not specific to November, we are happy to see a recent podcast addition focused on "Changing the Conversation" about type 2 diabetes -- a very worthy topic that needs more attention!
JDRF: Using the established #T1DLooksLikeMe hashtag and the T1D Footprint Generator (launched in 2016), the organization is updating its campaign page to also offer a new photo filter for people with T1D and those who care about them – featuring the new hashtag #T1DYouDontSee. Per the JDRF, the theme "highlights the idea that T1D is largely an invisible disease, but it’s one that affects us every day." Here's a sign up page for that (make sure to read all the fine-print). Sounds like both ADA And JDRF are focusing on the "invisible illness" theme this year... as is our friend Mike Durbin who is sharing a photo per day to #MakeDiabetesVisible. All good stuff.
The JDRF also posted a promotional "Celebration of Strength" video on Nov. 1 that "describes how people with T1D persevere in the face of adversity every minute of every day, playing the part of mathematician, physician, personal trainer and dietitian all rolled into one." You’ll also see a quiz on the web page that allows people to test their knowledge against a 9-year-old with T1D – again, helping others to "understand the skill and concentration it takes to manage T1D all day, every day."
JDRF also points out it will continue advocacy efforts that (unfortunately) include a first-ever plea at this time of year: asking Congress to fund critical research through the Special Diabetes Program. They haven't done this yet and the program expired Sept. 30, 2017, so with budget talks underway the pressure is on.
International Diabetes Federation: The IDF has a theme this year of "Focusing on the Future," aimed at women with diabetes and pregnancies as well as younger and future generations impacted by diabetes globally. It's built on improving access and care for women with diabetes -- 1 in 7 births are impacted by gestational diabetes, while more broadly 1 in 10 women globally are living with diabetes yet don't have access to the needed screening, education and care they need.
The IDF's Life for a Child USA is also launching a campaign on Nov. 14 that will ask for 1,000 donors to give $1 a day to support the care of 1,000 young people living with T1D in less-resourced countries. This comes at a particularly important time, LFAC General Manager Dr. Graham Ogle says, because they've been forced to cut back on some support due to lack of funds; and with a growing waiting list of countries needing help, the struggle is real. The campaign centers around a young girl named Amita, and it's initially U.S.-only, while LFAC is working with partners to launch this in the rest of the the world.
Beyond Type 1: This powerhouse California non-profit says it’s making a celebrity-related announcement at the start of D-Month, and will also have “easy advocacy actionables” every day leading up to World Diabetes Day (for example, the first day is posting a photo of your #bgnow online). The group also has a team running in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5 and teases that it has BIG plans for World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14. We are also intrigued to see BT1 has plans for a Nov. 14 showing in Los Angeles and broader rollout of its Bike Beyond documentary -- likely recapping the bike adventure across America that took place earlier this summer. We're anxious to hear more of what Beyond Type 1 has in store.
No, we haven't heard anything about the Big Blue Test that had been run by the Diabetes Hands Foundation before it closed earlier this year and handed off its TuDiabetes and related communities to BT1.
T1International: Type 1 PWD Elizabeth Rowley, founder of this UK-based nonprofit, tells us they'll be continuing the #insulin4all submission campaign that began three years ago, sharing global stories to ensure that world-POV is part of World Diabetes Day. She says the group will also be taking part in the 6pm ET slot in the annual DSMA Twitter chat using the #WDDchat17 hashtag on Nov. 14, as well as conducting a Just Giving crowdfunding campaign during the entire month of November, allowing people to support the T1I's work, such as advocating on the issue of soaring insulin prices here in the USA.
Project Blue November: As in past years, this group created in 2014 by D-Moms is encouraging the community to change their social media and Facebook pictures blue to raise awareness. They've created a Facebook filter to frame pictures, for those interested. Also, the group's doing a photo-each-day challenge on Instagram, continuing to get 2017 state proclamations on diabetes, all part of raising the public conversation about type 1 so that people know what this condition is all about and what the symptoms look like.
So that's what we know of so far in November. Got anything else to share relating to Diabetes Awareness Month? Please let us know in comments below.