How to Deal With Diabetes Stigma

How to Fight Against Type 2 Diabetes Stigma

A woman is holding up her hand

Everyone seems to play the blame game when it comes to type 2 diabetes. I bet if you did a quick survey in the street most people interviewed would say the disease is caused by overeating or overindulging in sugary treats.

Many people believe the condition is self-inflicted, so there is no wonder some people feel resentful towards patients: diabetes and associated conditions cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually in direct medical costs, disease management, and reduced productivity in workers in the U.S. alone.

Of course, some people have ignored warnings from their healthcare provider and failed to take steps to improve their diet and lifestyle, resulting in an almost inevitable diagnosis. But for every obese diabetic chowing down on fast food, there is another who might be only slightly overweight, or even a thinner person with a normal BMI, who exercises and eats healthily and still ends up being diagnosed with type 2.

Afra’s Advice for Dealing With Diabetes Stigma

I have type 2 diabetes. I’m the right weight for my height and, despite a slightly guilty weakness for cake, on the whole, eat well. I have been typical diabetes “apple” shape my whole life. I didn’t develop gestational diabetes through my pregnancies, so a diagnosis aged 36 when my liver function tests went awry even came as a surprise to my GP.

It has always seemed monumentally unfair to me that I know people of my age who consume an awful lot more sugar than me in the form of full-sugar soda, alcohol, and carbs, and yet have escaped the curse of type 2. If I have to tell people for any reason that I am diabetic, I just say I have diabetes. If people ask which type, of course, I tell them, but I know I will see that slight shift in sympathy, a slight flicker in expression, or change of subject that shows they believe I have brought it upon myself.


I believe this comes down to the way type 2 diabetes is presented in the media. I understand that many cases could be prevented if people adapted their diet and got more exercise, especially those in high-risk groups. It is important to get the message out that living a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, but it would be nice there was more awareness that not everyone with the condition could have prevented it.

I believe people think I was fat and lazy and therefore deserve my fate. Almost all news articles about type 2 diabetes I see in the U.K. feature images or video of morbidly obese people stuffing food into their mouths. I’m sure it’s the same in the U.S. It’s no wonder therefore that people seem to have little sympathy for us.

It Starts With Us

Even I get angry when I look at obese people in the waiting room of my diabetic or retinopathy clinic. I feel life is just unfair — I should not have diabetes, I am not that fat. There was a man there the other day holding a giant milky coffee in one hand and a chocolate pastry in the other. I judged him in my head and then reminded myself that I had no idea of his situation.

Maybe he was there for some special test and been asked to eat something like that, maybe his sugars had dropped on the way to the hospital and he was trying to bring them back to safe levels. What I am trying to say is that even as fellow diabetics we cannot judge other patients. The obese woman next to you in the clinic might not have a five donut a day habit — she may have another health condition which makes her appear larger.

It is vital this stigma is addressed, as surveys have shown it can affect the management of diabetes and long-term outcomes.

Next page: destroying diabetes stigma, and counselor Eric’s tips.

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