Why your jokes about sweets giving you diabetes aren’t funny

Lily’s here to update your misconceptions and explains why your jokes about diabetes are seriously pissing her off.

I’m sure we’ve all heard somebody say it before, or we may have even said it ourselves: ‘Oh my god guys, this cake is SO sweet! It’s totally going to give me diabetes.” Cut to people falling about in their chairs laughing. Do you know why I’m not laughing? I’m a type two diabetic, and it is not a fun illness to have. It comes with immense feelings of guilt, self-blame and most of all, shame.

What you should know about diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that changes how your body uses glucose.
Insulin is the hormone that your body needs in order to use glucose for energy.

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas can’t make insulin.

In type 2 diabetes the body has become resistant to the insulin the pancreas makes naturally.

6% of the UK population has diabetes (that’s 1 in 16 people).

When I was first diagnosed I blamed myself entirely. I’m overweight, I thought, this is all my fault. I saw a life of cinema snacks, of drunken nights out, of enjoying a slice of cake on my birthday all fading away in front of my eyes. I believed that I had brought this on myself and that my lifestyle of comfort eating had finally caught up with me.

However, I wasn’t aware of all the other factors at play. People of African heritage are more likely to develop diabetes, and the fact my Grandfather was a diabetic too added another factor of probability to the mix. Yes, my diet and lifestyle were partly to blame but they didn’t make up the whole reason for my diagnosis.

I saw a life of cinema snacks, of drunken nights out, of enjoying a slice of cake on my birthday all fading away in front of my eyes.

Some very simple, and common, factors can also make the risk of developing type 2 higher. They are as simple as stress, as higher levels of Cortisol result in insulin resistance. Maybe you were a tall child? A study in 1992 found that children who became diabetic were considerably taller than non-diabetic children. Even something such as your bra size could increase your chances!

(I say all this as a highly stressed individual, who is very tall….and has a large bra size.)

Do you know why your jokes aren’t funny?

This is a chronic illness. People with type two diabetes will likely be taking medication for most of their life. Chronic high blood sugar leads to complications – big, scary complications, like amputations, blindness, wounds that refuse to heal, and even Alzheimer’s disease. The way that I test for high blood sugar is a pain. Literally a pain, because I have to stab my finger and test my blood on a strip – if there’s one thing you can’t be if you’re diabetic its phobic of needles! If you’ve ever been taken to hospital by ambulance, you’ll probably have had your blood sugar tested by a paramedic, or maybe you’ve been lucky and haven’t had the ‘thrill’ of an ambulance ride, but it’s similar to pricking your finger on a safety pin. Now imagine that, but several times a day. People with diabetes are also twice as likely to suffer from depression, and having depression increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 60%. Basically, it’s a never-ending circle of shit. Although I do get free prescriptions, so… bonus?

People with diabetes are also twice as likely to suffer from depression

We don’t make jokes about cancer. Cancer is untouchable. I don’t think anybody lights up a cigarette, looks to their friends and flippantly comments that they’re ‘totally going to get lung cancer lol’ or as they climb onto a sunbed, ‘Oh my goodness, malignant melanoma, here I come!’ So, if jokes about cancer are so taboo, why are jokes about a disease that kills 20,000 people a year in England and Wales alone acceptable? Is it because people don’t know enough about diabetes? Maybe it’s part of the bigger problem of dismissing diseases associated with obesity and the fact that diabetes is more prevalent in groups of lower socio-economic status.

On a personal level, these ‘jokes’ piss me off because they reinforce those original feelings of shame and guilt I felt when I was first diagnosed. If the general public seriously believes that diabetes is caused by excessive sugar consumption alone, then what must they think of the millions of people in the UK who are diagnosed with diabetes, and by extension, me? God, do they think we’re the reason the NHS is struggling so much? I’ve had a look into the numbers, and treating diabetes costs the NHS £2.1 billion a year (excluding the costs of treating complications) however they also spend £11.6 billion on treating mental health issues. Is it fair to say you wouldn’t blame people with mental health issues for developing them? Then you shouldn’t blame people’s food choices as the sole reason for their illness. If we stopped spending money on conditions that are ‘preventable’ than the £1 billion that the NHS spends treating household accidents would be halted. In 2016, a boy I went to school with passed away due to complications of Type 1 Diabetes. He was 18. Are you still laughing?

Have you learnt some new things about diabetes? Good, then it’s time to put your one-liners about biscuits behind you. I’m off to stab myself in the finger. Peace!

This link will take you to www.diabetes.org.uk where you can find out more about this misunderstood disease. Do you have diabetes too? Come and talk to Lily over on the Instagram! @rifemag

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