“Johnny has 32 candy bars. He eats 28…” We’ve all seen this joke. We’ve all cringed. Some of us have gotten angry. Some of us have felt guilt. None of us thought it was funny, and yet many people do.
The latest in this trend is the meme showing a fat little girl titled “Lil Diabeetus snacks” as a take-off to Little Debbie Snacks. It’s being bandied about on FaceBook as “cute” and “funny”; an appropriate name change. Is it funny? I don’t think so. I commented on a posting of this meme saying that I thought it was insulting. I was told to “lighten up”, it’s “just a joke”. But I shouldn’t lighten up and it isn’t just a joke. Why isn’t it funny?
Many millions of people have diabetes and many millions more are walking around with the disease and are completely unaware. Some serious “stuff” needs to happen in this country (and around the world, for that matter) in order for this trend to slow down. Here’s hoping that research can find a cure for type 1 since eating a healthier diet won’t make it “go away”. People with type 2 need better education for how to live with this disease. Research into why we get type 2 needs to happen. Research takes lots and lots of money. Are people likely to back spending money to research better outcomes for people with type 2 if they think we got it because we ate too many candy bars and Oatmeal Crème Pies? I don’t think so. The jokes aren’t funny if they perpetuate myths that might get in the way of research funding.
I mentioned in the beginning of this post that some of us have felt guilt when hearing these knee-slapping stories. This guilt is misplaced but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I sometimes feel guilty that I didn’t improve my diet years ago. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed my type 2 until I was in my 70’s or 80’s like my skinny little grandmother did. It’s wrong to feel guilt. Nearly everyone indulges in poor diet choices. When people with type 2 diabetes are confronted, sometimes daily, with myths and stories that heap guilt and blame upon our heads, it makes it too easy to give up and not take care of ourselves. If it’s our fault that we got this disease then maybe we don’t deserve to get better. Maybe it’s just easier to live the myth. The jokes aren’t funny if they keep PWD from taking care of themselves.
When the general public sees these jokes it leaves the impression that you get diabetes from eating too much sugar. This can cause people to think that if they just don’t eat sugar, then they’ll be ok! The truth is that mass consumption of processed, refined carbohydrates can have just as much impact on the development of type 2 as too much sugar. Myths and misguided information can possibly keep someone from paying attention to their health. They might think that they aren’t at risk for developing type 2 and ignore the symptoms. Early detection can make a huge difference in outcomes. The jokes aren’t funny if they keep someone from paying attention to their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
What can we do? It can feel overwhelming to think about changing the tide of this storm. But we can make a difference. When we hear a mistruth or observe someone perpetuating a diabetes myth, we can speak up. Tell your friend that you don’t think that joke is funny and why. If you see a joke about diabetes online, comment and set the record straight. Speak gently, calmly and intelligently. Try to keep emotions out of the mix. It’s not easy to do but it will make a difference. “You know, that isn’t exactly right. You can’t get diabetes from eating sugar.” “Fat people aren’t the only ones who develop type 2 diabetes. 35% of American adults are overweight or obese. Only 8% have diabetes.” “Cutting out sweets is a great start but cutting out processed foods will make a big difference too.”
People will laugh at another’s expense. A man getting kicked in the crotch is funny to some, but not to the man. Laughing at someone else’s expense should never be accepted, and yet it is. If we work together to educate those around us, maybe we’ll see a shift in the public’s perception of diabetes. Maybe parents of T1 kids won’t have to answer those thoughtless questions about why they fed their kids so much sugar. Maybe those of us with T2 can hold our heads up a little higher knowing that we didn’t cause our disease. Maybe, if we do our job, there will be an outcry to find a cure for diabetes of all types. Maybe better education will be available for people dealing with type 2. Maybe someday we can laugh at the idea that there used to be a thing called diabetes. Then we can lighten up.