Responsible reporting about diabetes

Any of my regular readers will know that I am a relatively recently diagnosed type 1 diabetic. If you are a new reader, hi, I’m Kayleigh and I’m a relatively recently diagnosed type 1 diabetic. Potted history: diagnosed in October 2012 following seven months of very obvious symptoms, was hospitalised with severe diabetic ketoacidosis, have mostly been managing fine ever since.

For every person I meet who ‘gets’ type 1, there are five who just don’t. There is little more frustrating than having to explain, again, that I am allowed sugar and that yes, I inject every day, and that yes, it’s usually four times a day, but it’s understandable: most people don’t know anything about it. AND THAT IS THE BLOODY PROBLEM.

I read a lot of news, obviously. I particularly love health journalism, and I spend a lot of time reading up on it. I am now what I would call a ‘pop-doc’, insofar as I can often correctly ‘diagnose’ people’s conditions based purely on what I’ve read in the news, but equally, if I were a patient, I would never want to find that it was me scrubbing up and coming at my body with a scalpel. But this also means that I know only too well how poor the standard of reporting can be when it comes to diabetes.

So many times, I am left dismayed by the critical omission of ‘type 1’ or ‘type 2’ before ‘diabetes’ in reporting. Sometimes the journalist gets round to clarifying the type; often this is not the case. This is in local news, online news and in the nationals. This article about alarming rates of diabetes in Mississippi fails to mention that the shocking headline refers to type 2 until halfway through the third paragraph, only after the obesity link has been stated. By the time we see type 2, the damage has been done – diabetes is being caused by obesity in Mississippi. Wrong. This BBC News article about the diabetes risk gene coming from Neanderthals doesn’t mention the type until paragraph 9. Amazingly, this Fox News piece about reducing the likelihood of developing diabetes for pre-diabetics fails to mention at all that the research refers, presumably, to the lifestyle-related type 2 diabetes.

This isn’t a case of ‘I don’t want my condition to be associated with type 2 diabetes because of all the stigma that comes with it’. It is a case of ‘I want people to understand my condition for what it really is, and not based on the lack of information and, worse, the misinformation pumped out by the media’.

It isn’t like the information isn’t there. Diabetes UK has compiled a fantastic guide for journalists reporting on diabetes which covers the distinction, and it is a very important distinction. Both types come with their own difficulties and necessary lifestyle alterations, and it is crucial that anyone reporting on either, or both, understands what they are writing about. A good journalist should do their research, and just because the names are similar, the conditions are very different, as are their implications, and if the general public are to be made aware of this, the media needs to get its story straight. Unfortunately, type 1 only tends to receive satisfactory coverage when it is written by a type 1, such as in this Independent story about Lidl’s decision to stop selling sweets at checkouts.

This is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about finding a better way to distinguish between the conditions. A name change could do this to give the clarity we need. Leukemia isn’t the same as septicemia or haemophilia, despite the fact they all affect the blood. Likewise, type 1 diabetes isn’t the same as type 2 diabetes, despite the fact they both affect the pancreas.

The bottom line is this: journalists and editors need to start paying attention to the guidance offered to them. There is no excuse whatsoever for getting this wrong. And yes, I consider failing to make the distinction getting it wrong too. The facts are clear. Stop fuelling the public’s assumptions and start getting it right. It isn’t difficult.

How would you go about raising awareness of the reporting guidelines for diabetes?

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Diagnosed February 2013 – I feel your frustrations!

    1. What hope do we have of helping other people understand when there are so many misleading or just plain wrong sources in the media? Agreed – very frustrating indeed!

  2. You are helping alot of people by sharing your story Kayleigh! Living with Diabetes is tough, especially when diagnosed so young. Keep strong.

    Free Medication Coupons are available to use for your diabetes medications at http://www.medicationcoupons.com

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