Stigma can be a major challenge for people with diabetes. Diabetes-related stigma exists everywhere, including in the home, workplace, school and healthcare setting, and prevents people from seeking care and managing their physical and mental health.
What causes diabetes stigma?
Diabetes is a complex health condition that can result from many factors, including genetic, environment, lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors, but many people simply don’t know enough about it. There are many misconceptions about diabetes that are often reported as facts. These misconceptions often result in misplaced judgement, blame, and disrespect toward people with diabetes.
Below we debunk some of the common myths about diabetes.
Myths & Facts
Myth – Diabetes can be prevented
Fact – Not all types of diabetes can be prevented. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition, it can’t be prevented and there is no cure. The cause of type 1 diabetes is still unknown.
Strong international evidence shows diabetes prevention programs can help prevent type 2 diabetes in up to 58 per cent of cases. There is no single cause of type 2 diabetes, but there are well-established risk factors. Your risk of developing diabetes is also affected by things you cannot change such as family history and ethnicity.
Myth – You have to be overweight or obese to develop diabetes
Fact – Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes but it is not a direct cause. Diabetes is a result of genetic and/or poor lifestyle choices that encompass physical inactivity, sedentariness, alcohol intake, food choices, stress, sleep quality, emotional and psychological stress etc. It is common for people to develop diabetes who are within healthy weight ranges.
Myth- All types of diabetes are the same
Fact – There are a number of types of diabetes. The most common are type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes Other forms of diabetes are less common. Each type of diabetes has different causes and may be managed in different ways but once someone has any type of diabetes except gestational diabetes, it needs to be managed every day. Gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy, however it does significantly increase someone’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. All types of diabetes are complex and serious.
Myth – You have to lose a lot of weight to improve your diabetes
Fact – Research suggests that focusing on weight loss as the only measure of success is not only ineffective, but it’s also psychologically damaging. Weight loss can improve your overall health and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other complications. But disruption of the body’s energy systems can also lead to other health issues, hormone disruption, and metabolic complications. Losing weight too fast can increase your risk of muscle loss and lower your metabolism. It’s important to talk to a doctor, exercise physiologist or dietitian to make sure you’re losing weight in a healthy manner. Your doctor can also refer you to a mental health professional who can help you create a treatment plan for your mental and emotional well-being during your weight loss journey.
Myth – Only people with type 1 diabetes need insulin
Fact – Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition. Current evidence suggests about 50 % people with Type 2 diabetes may require insulin after 6 – 10 years of being diagnosed with diabetes because of physiological changes in the pancreas (produces less insulin) over time. Performing regular exercise and taking prescribed medication is best management for Type 2 Diabetes and can result in fewer complications in the long-term.
People with type 1 diabetes are dependent on insulin replacements every day of their lives due to their pancreas not physiologically able to produce insulin naturally. It is important they are educated on insulin dose and timing to ensure they are not at increased risk of hypoglycaemia.
Myth – All women with gestational diabetes will not have diabetes once the baby is born.
Fact – 90% of women who are diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy will not have diabetes after delivery. The remaining 10% potentially had diabetes prior to pregnancy, but it went undetected. In Australia it is estimated that there are 1.7 million people who have diabetes, with an additional 25% estimated to be undiagnosed. There is also a 10 fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the following 10 years. So although chances are you will no longer have diabetes after delivery, a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of developing diabetes later on.
Myth – Only overweight women develop gestational diabetes
Fact – Being overweight prior to pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of developing GDM. Weight gain during pregnancy is also an important factor in the development of GDM. There are also other non-modifiable risk factors for GDM including ethnicity, age and family history. Some women have no risk factors and still develop the condition, which is why there is a best practice guideline to test all women for GDM during pregnancy. So although being overweight does increase the risk of developing GDM, there are many factors that contribute to the condition.
Myth – People with diabetes can’t exercise or play sport.
Fact – People with Type 1 and 2 Diabetes can exercise or participate in sport. Being physically active is important for everyone to improve their overall health and wellbeing, as well as to reduce the risk of chronic disease. Competitive and community sport can be a great way for people with Diabetes to remain social and physically active to improve their condition. Structured exercise is especially important for diabetes management as it can:
- Help to lower blood glucose levels,
- Increase insulin sensitivity,
- Reduce the need for medication and
- Help to maintain a healthy weight and healthy heart.