British Columbia·Point of View

Diabetes is not a joke — so drop the sugar-related punchlines

Nadine Pedersen, whose son has Type 1 diabetes, says they live with the stigma of many people assuming that all diabetes is a result of not eating well — when, in fact, her son's condition is an incurable, life-threatening autoimmune disorder.

Nadine Pedersen, whose son has Type 1 diabetes, says insensitive jokes are all too common

Nadine Pedersen and her 13-year-old son Hudson Carpenter say they frequently encounter insensitive jokes and stereotypes about diabetes. (Clare Hennig/CBC)

Nadine Pedersen, the mother of a teen with Type 1 diabetes, spoke to CBC's The Early Edition about breaking stereotypes around the disease and stopping the sugar-related jokes.

I was driving my 13-year-old son, Hudson, who lives with Type 1 diabetes, to school in the morning on Wednesday when we heard a quip on CBC Radio about how eating Diwali sweets will cause diabetes.

Hudson and I looked at each other and groaned because these kinds of comments are so common and they are so off base.

It's a common mistake, like when someone makes a not-very-knowledgeable joke. It just makes you sigh.- Hudson Carpenter 

Ever since Hudson was diagnosed at age eight with Type 1 diabetes, we've encountered people who assume his medical condition is the result of him not eating well.

In fact, Type 1 diabetes is not diet related. It's an incurable, life-threatening, super-challenging auto-immune disorder.

People develop Type 1 diabetes after their immune system attacks and kills the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, people die because their bodies are unable to convert food into energy.

Living with Type 1

To survive, Hudson needs to prick his fingers and do blood tests several times a day.

He's connected to an insulin pump 24 hours a day and has a continuous glucose monitor attached to his arm.

Hudson has to calculate the carbohydrates in every single thing he puts in his mouth to give himself the right dose of insulin.

We're often up in the middle of the night trying to prevent low blood sugar or high blood sugar — either of which can be deadly.

It's kind of scary because you might fall asleep and never wake up and that's every night.- Hudson Carpenter 

On one of the social media accounts I run to raise awareness about diabetes, I occasionally post pictures of blue candles.

These candles mark the passing of children who have died from diabetes. Sometimes these children die from having low blood sugar in the middle of the night. Other times it's because their symptoms of Type 1 diabetes are misdiagnosed as the flu.

These children end up falling into a coma and never come out of it.

As you would expect, these stories aren't very funny.

Reinforcing misinformation

People make diabetes jokes as a reflex, without really thinking about what they are saying.

They don't realize that in making these jokes they are perpetuating misinformation about a really complex and difficult disease.

Some people feel like it's "OK" to joke about diabetes because they associate Type 2 diabetes with people being overweight — and fat-shaming is one of the last areas where people seem to think that it's acceptable to mock and make fun of others.

Obviously, this is also unacceptable. It's also inaccurate — people can be thin and active and still develop Type 2 diabetes.

It's well past the time to start breaking the stereotypes around diabetes.

Insensitive comments and jokes about diabetes are exceedingly common in our society. When you listen for them, you start to notice them.

Hudson and I notice them all the time.

With files from The Early Edition


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