What comes to mind when you think of diabetes? Older and more obese people? Insulin injections? Poor eyesight? A life without chocolate?

All these things have been associated with diabetes in the past, and some still are today; but is this all diabetes is about? Or are there misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes about diabetes that could do with an overhaul?

Every year, Diabetes UK, a leading UK diabetes charity, organise ‘Diabetes Week’ to raise awareness, education levels, and money to fund future research on diabetes. This year, it runs from 10—16th June and has the theme of “#SeeDiabetesDifferently”. The aim is “to help people know more about diabetes – not just as a condition, but about how it feels to live with it.”

Someone is diagnosed with diabetes every two minutes and there are 4.7 million people in the UK living with diabetes. Diabetes UK think “every one is different”, so here are 7 major myths about diabetes that may need reconsidering – one for each day of Diabetes Week.

Myth 1: Diabetes only affects older, overweight people

The media often talk about diabetes along with images of obese or overweight people, and greasy, ‘take-away’ food. Whilst there is a link between the rise in obesity and increasing incidence of Type 2 diabetes, diabetes can affect people of all ages, weights and body types. Around one-fifth of people with Type 2 diabetes are of a normal weight, or underweight. That said, being overweight is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, so reducing weight is usually recommended to reduce risk.

There are also at least 6,000 children and young people under 25 with Type 2 diabetes in England and Wales and the incidence is increasing. What’s important here is that childcare providers are up-to-speed with diabetes information and know what to do if children in their care have the condition. You could set up a diabetes policy within your setting to make sure that you are effectively able to look after children with diabetes.

Myth 2: Type 2 diabetes is a mild form of diabetes and does not need insulin

All types of diabetes are serious and there is no such thing as ‘mild diabetes’. If left untreated, both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can cause serious complications that can be fatal. It is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin that the pancreas produces, leading to ineffective control the body’s blood sugar levels, which can damage other systems such as blood vessels, nerves and organs.

Type 2 diabetes can often be managed by lifestyle changes but in some cases, as the degree of insulin resistance increases, insulin may be needed, just like Type 1 diabetes.

Myth 3: People with diabetes cannot drive

Being able to drive and be independent is something that many people value highly. If you have diabetes and manage it well, research suggests that you are no less safe on the roads than other people, so developing diabetes does not automatically mean you cannot drive. Charities like Diabetes UK offer advice on all aspects of living with diabetes including how it might affect a person’s ability to drive.

Myth 4: People with diabetes can’t do certain jobs

To some extent, this is true. There are still positions, such as some roles in the Armed Forces, which are not available to people with diabetes. However, the number of jobs that people are excluded from, is decreasing and charities are campaigning to remove prejudice and ‘blanket bans’ around employment.

Myth 5: People with diabetes can’t eat sugar or fruit and should eat only ‘diabetic’ food

Eating is one of life’s pleasures and restricting what you eat can be difficult whether you have diabetes or not! People with diabetes need to eat a healthy, balanced diet in order to control their blood sugar effectively. Since everyone is different, dietary advice can be a tricky area, and it is recommended that people diagnosed with diabetes, see a dietician as soon as possible to get tailored advice for their specific situation. And it’s perfectly possible to eat fruit and sugar in moderation and still manage glucose levels effectively.

So-called ‘diabetic’ foods are often labelled as such because they include sugar replacements, but patients should contact their dietician before buying them. It is certainly not the case that people with diabetes can only eat ‘diabetic’ food.

Myth 6: It’s difficult to travel if you have diabetes

People with diabetes travel all over the world on all forms of transport. Preparation and planning are key, as it’s even more important for people with diabetes to ensure that they have access to the correct medicines, advice, emergency help and insurance when they travel – but they can still fulfil their travel dreams.

Myth 7: Diabetes is contagious

You cannot catch diabetes like you might catch a cold! It is a ‘non-communicable illness’ so is not passed on by touch, coughing, sneezing, blood, or any other person-to-person contact. Some types of diabetes have been linked to genetic factors, but this just means a person may have increased risk of developing diabetes if they have a genetic predisposition.

Obviously in the space of one article, we cannot tackle every myth or misconception, or lay out a comprehensive guide to the condition, its symptoms, treatments and complications. But hopefully we have straightened out some myths so you can indeed begin to #SeeDiabetesDifferently.

What will you do in your setting to support Diabetes Week?

We’d love to hear about your involvement. Please email us at marketing@parenta.com.

For more information about diabetes, visit:

Diabetes UK –
www.diabetes.org.uk

Diabetes.co.uk –
www.diabetes.co.uk

NHS website –
www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes

WHO –
www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes

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