Diabetes is not a lifestyle choice – By Helen May


I recently read a post on another diabetes blog site . The gist of the this post was a group of friends in a bar discussing type 1 diabetes were overheard by a guy who decided to join in. Unfortunately, he was ignorant about diabetes and told the group that diabetes is an obesity problem and (being in USA) it is people like them that put up the health insurance costs for others. The writer of the blog was saddened by the ignorance of the guy not understanding the difference between type 1 and type 2.

I too was frustrated by the ignorance this guy in the bar and others like him. Not only was I frustrated by his ignorance of the different types of diabetes, I was also frustrated by his ignorance that weight, and by implication lifestyle, was all that causes diabetes. I am not a diabetes expert and I know more about type 1 than type 2. However, I know the cause of type 2 diabetes is far more complicated that just being overweight. I know that you are more at risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes if you are overweight but that does not mean all people with type 2 diabetes are obese. I also know that you are more at risk if there is a history of type 2 diabetes in the family. So not all overweight people have type 2 diabetes.

It is too easy to link illness to lifestyle. What scares me more is the implication that if you choose a lifestyle which makes you more likely to contract an illness, you are less worthy of treatment from (for us in the UK) the National Health Service. The easy examples are people who smoke and drink heavily. But what about the CEO of a company who is more likely to be stressed? Or an elite athlete? Or bringing it close to home, if I fell whilst climbing, would I be less worthy of treatment than someone participating in a less dangerous activity such as crossing the road? Or if I pick up an exotic disease whilst travelling in Africa, should I get charged for the treatment because I was stupid enough to visit the country?

Bringing this argument back to type 1 diabetes, where do we go? If I control my blood glucose, I am less likely to suffer from complications in the future. So if in 15 or 20 years time, my eyesight starts to fade or I lose feeling in my feet, does this mean I have “chosen” not to manage my diabetes well? Of course, not. It is much more complicated than that.

So to any guy in a bar who wants to lecture me about costing the UK tax payer money because I have chosen to have diabetes by my lifestyle choice, I say “I, and my fellow diabetics, have not chosen this condition. Before you criticise, learn the facts: you made more choice to drink that beer, today.”

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Thanks so much for the link back to my post and for better expressing the T1 / T2 thing than I did. As a Type 1, I get upset when people say ANY diabetes is caused by being overweight and not exercising, because like you said, there is more to it than that. I didn’t mention it in my post, but I did try to make him see his comments and assumptions were incorrect about BOTH types. Thank you for expanding on that point, and for your great reflections on both types of diabetes.

Must be frustrating as a type 1 diabetes sufferer to have to deal with the lack of awareness about the difference between type 1 and type 2. Also it’s a good point about the cost to the healthcare system of things like a stressed CEO and a trip-gone-wrong overseas – great examples, had never thought of it like that before.