Having to take insulin injections is not the worst thing about having diabetes. Having to prick your fingers before you can eat or exercise is probably worse than needing to inject a synthetic hormone into your body, but it’s not the worst thing about having diabetes. Working full time (and it is full-time) to keep blood sugars under control, and the sense of deflation when all that hard work doesn’t pay off, is one of the worst things about having diabetes. But it’s not the worst.
Public misperception around diabetes is the worst thing about having the condition. I struggle with this almost daily, on behalf of my daughter. She will have to face unfair judgement, and assumptions that make her daily life more stressful, for the rest of her life.
You can’t eat cake; a few crisps won’t hurt you; do you really have to weigh everything???
So when a public figure perpetuates those myths on national television, it hurts. Yesterday Coleen Nolan, on Loose Women, told the nation that it was ok to believe that children get diabetes because their mothers eat too much in pregnancy. It is not ok. So Coleen, please do some research before you mention diabetes again.
Dear Coleen Nolan: diabetes facts.
- Diabetes in children is not caused by overeating. Children with diabetes almost always have Type 1. It is an autoimmune condition, caused by the body’s own defences attacking the cells of the pancreas. No-one knows what causes it, but science does know that it has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, and that it cannot be prevented.
- Children can have a tendency in their genes to developing Type 2 diabetes (which is often – though not always – linked to lifestyle factors, and can often be prevented). But they are not born with it.
- Some people are intelligent and well-informed, and know that my child and I did nothing to cause her diabetes. But children with Type 1 diabetes will eventually become adults with Type 1 diabetes. It still won’t be their fault, but as adults they will face even more labelling by the people who think they know, and judge them. You could help change this, by telling the truth about diabetes. Instead you have perpetuated the myth, and added justification to those who judge without knowledge.
About diet, and diabetes in children.
If you’d like some examples to disprove your statement, they are abundant, but I will tell you mine. I wanted my daughter to be perfect, to have the perfect start in life. When I was pregnant I ate nothing but organic produce. I ate more vegetables than ever before, and chose only fish and lean proteins with my meals. I stayed away from cake, puddings, biscuits, and alcohol. I didn’t smoke – never have. I breastfed, puréed my own organic fruits and vegetables for her first meals, and only allowed one plain biscuit if she was ever at a playgroup. She plays football, dances, and rarely flops on the sofa. She is slim and energetic. Her favourite foods are steak, green beans, and mangoes.
She developed diabetes at the age of 9.
When I was pregnant with my second child I was knackered. I survived on coffee and Starbucks pastries. Sugar and caffeine became a way of staying awake. I craved cheese, and McDonald’s, and I gave in regularly to those cravings. I breastfed my son, but I didn’t have time for as much organic home-cooked purée, and so he often ate from a jar, hurriedly purchased at the supermarket during my weekly shop. I have no idea how many biscuits he ate at playgroups, because I couldn’t keep track of both of them all of the time.
He currently doesn’t have diabetes.
Coleen, you are not the only public figure to say something ill-thought-out about diabetes. Jamie Oliver (lord knows I love him, but Jamie, you too need some education) has got it wrong too. And he’s in an even better position to help solve the problem than you are. But it’s time you learned. It’s time for everyone who doesn’t know the facts, to learn them, or keep their thoughts to themselves. Until you know, you don’t know anything, and stating as fact things which are untrue just allows the general population to feel justified in their judgements. They are not. You are not.
Please help us Coleen. Help us to stop people believing that parents have caused their child’s diabetes. To stop people making lives harder with their assumptions – a diabetic’s life is hard enough already, without worrying about what other people think. You need to do this, because whilst people believe what you believed yesterday, they won’t support the organisations striving to find a cure for this dreadful disease, and my girl will have to live longer with this hell.
Yours hopefully (but not holding her breath),
A mum to a diabetic child who doesn’t deserve this.