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Diabetes types 1 and 2: it's time we learnt the difference

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As a child, we are frequently told that eating sugary foods will rot our teeth. When we transition to adulthood, the newspapers we read warn us that the same sugary foods will cause diabetes.

Although many of us were guilty of paying too many trips to the dentist as a result of our attachment to the corner shop’s penny sweet collection, more of us are guilty of taking what we read in newspapers at face value.

The condition “diabetes” is perhaps the most misreported illness that we know of. Much of the rhetoric plastered across major publications informs us that certain eating habits and lifestyle choices can cause diabetes. What newspapers fail to address is that diabetes is not a generic term for one illness, it comes in the form of type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it is caused by the immune system attacking beta cells which produce insulin in the pancreas. There is currently no known cause for type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes differs to type 1 in that beta cells are not being attacked by the immune system. Instead, the body loses its ability to produce insulin or the insulin produced does not work properly. Unlike type 1, lifestyle and diet are the most common causes of type 2 diabetes.

Considering the stark differences between the two illnesses, it is questionable how newspapers can print the word DIABETES as a front page story without adding a simple preface to avoid, you know, generalising to the extent that they invent a whole new cause of type 1 diabetes that scientists themselves haven’t even found.

The Daily Mail recently debuted their “Eat To Beat Diabetes” diet authorised by Dr Michael Mosley. Although it is specified within the article that the diet is designed to avoid or reverse the effects of type 2, the Mail still chose to generalise the illness on their front page. As type 1 is most commonly diagnosed in childhood/young adulthood, this may lead to parents feeling stigmatised and blamed for encouraging the wrong sort of diet for their child.

Ill-reporting and misconceptions have a direct influence on public perception of diabetes. It is not uncommon to hear people joke about overweight people and diabetes. This ignorant humour is perfectly summed up by one Lad Bible contributor, in an article written about the possibility of McDonalds serving chocolate on chips: “If you’re a big fan of diabetes on top of diabetes, this is great news.”. You wouldn’t joke about cancer, so why is diabetes so different?

If newspapers would simply make the distinction between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the ignorance and stigma surrounding diabetes would turn to knowledge and understanding. After all, isn’t it the prime role of a journalist to be factually accurate?




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