Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Let’s Talk About Prevention

When I was a little kid, Smokey the Bear would come on TV and say, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” I’m here to tell you that that’s some heavy responsibility to put on a 9 year-old. Really? I’m the only one who can prevent a forest fire? Bambi’s well-being is squarely on MY shoulders? Yikes! In reality there are lots of reasons for forest fires other than idiots who don’t pay attention including lightening caused fires. It’s certainly important to pay attention with fire while in the forest (says one who happens to have a national forest in her back yard) but no one has control over lightening. No one can prevent that type of forest fire.

I don’t spend much time on Facebook these days. I lurk and rarely interact. Today my eye was caught by a post from my friend Cherise. In the post she was calling out a reputable organization for posting the idea that type 2 diabetes can be prevented. She called BS (in the nicest of ways. It’s Cherise, after all.). There was a healthy back and forth among some of her FB friends discussing whether or not it is fair to say that type 2 is preventable. There was the discussion of genetics as well as the thought that many people could “prevent” their diagnosis if they would “simply” make some lifestyle changes. There were some “damn straights” and “preach it Brothers” coming from my lips as I read the exchange. It also led me here to write about my thoughts on the subject.

I’m not going to talk about the genetics or science behind this argument that too often pops up on the internet. Although science is very important, I want to talk about the people who are affected by the word “preventable”. People like me. People who have developed type 2 diabetes.

I was privileged to attend the HealtheVoices 2016 Conference this past spring in Chicago. It was a gathering of health advocates/bloggers across all diseases, not just people with diabetes. There was a good showing of folks from the DOC there and it was a rewarding, fun and educational weekend. The conference was kicked off on Friday evening with a banquet and keynote speaker. This gentleman, who collects data about all types of diseases, was going through his presentation, showing us slides of his data, when he said something that caused those of us with knowledge of life with diabetes to gasp. He said that 80+ percent of cases of type 2 diabetes were preventable. Wow. I could barely breathe. Here was someone who ought to know telling 100+ people that I could have prevented my diabetes. We were all shocked. My dear friend Bea said to me, “you have to say something!” Ohhhhh but I don’t wanna. I can’t stand up in front of all these people and confront this man! But I did. With my voice quavering I called him out. I told him that those types of statements do nothing but increase the stigma that those of us with diabetes face every day. Words matter (although I’m not exactly sure what words I used because DANG I was nervous!).

What does it feel like to hear that you have a disease that you could have prevented? It feels pretty crappy, let me tell you. Those of us who advocate for people with diabetes rail against the accusation that people with type 2 did this to themselves; that we somehow deserve what we got. Quit blaming the patient! There are many ways to develop type 2 diabetes that have nothing to do with diet, like gestational diabetes or coming in contact with some type of environmental goop. But the reality is that the majority of cases of type 2 are developed due to lifestyle. Ugh, did I just type that? I did, but let me explain further.

I have said all along that I would have eventually developed type 2 in my elder years, regardless of my lifestyle but my lifestyle probably hastened my development of the disease. That’s not an easy pill to swallow. But hey! I didn’t eat dozens of donuts or vats of chili cheese fries! I ate like everyone else ate. That’s the key: the Standard American Diet SUCKS!

My friend Mike Lawson said it so well in his comment on this FB thread: “and if some all-encompassing study proves that Type 2 is caused entirely by the food we eat, it isn't accurate to say that people that develop type 2 diabetes have done anything except eat the food that we have access to.” Bingo! (I love you Mike!)

THAT is the key! People who develop type 2 diabetes are those who most likely have a genetic predisposition and their lifestyle of too many processed carbs and not enough daily exercise have caused their bodies to cease to be able to process glucose effectively. They aren’t any different than anyone else, they just got the booby prize in the lottery of life.

So back to prevention. Don’t tell the world that type 2 diabetes is preventable unless you’re willing to back that statement with proper education for the masses on how processed food is vile and over consumption of processed carbs is taxing your pancreas and liver and preventing your cells from getting the energy they need. The way the majority of Americans eat is causing over production of insulin which turns to fat which increases insulin resistance which makes it difficult for our bodies to process glucose which causes your pancreas to release more insulin; rinse, repeat. Don’t say it’s preventable unless you’re willing to make whole, real foods readily available to the majority of people in a way that’s affordable. Don’t say it’s preventable unless you teach people how to cook and eat healthy, whole foods. Don’t say it’s preventable unless you go about making exercise easier to achieve in our hectic lives. Don’t say it’s preventable when I know damn well that there was nothing I could have done, knowing what I did at that time. No way could I have fed my family any better on the few dollars I had at my disposal, not to mention that the dreaded food pyramid was telling me to eat 6-12 servings of carbohydrates per day!

Words matter and the people who have developed type 2 diabetes because they have just been living their lives like everyone else deserve better than to be accused of developing a disease that dramatically, painfully affects them for the rest of their lives. Think before you point a finger: can you say that you eat any differently? Are you perfect?

Type 2 diabetes may someday be a disease that can be delayed if the people in our society are given the tools they need to make “better” choices. When our society lifts up real food and shuns fast and convenient crap then maybe fewer people will develop type 2, at least not until they’re old and gray.

When you tell me that my disease was preventable you’re telling me that I failed. You’re telling me that I failed the test when I wasn’t given a chance to study. I failed when fast, convenient tasty foods are priced in a way that makes them an easy choice for people who don’t have much money? When I was just living life like everyone else, I failed. Don’t tell me that I could have prevented it, help me to show my kids and grandkids a better way.

Just like Smokey the Bear, the media is pointing its finger at me and saying that “only YOU can prevent type 2 diabetes!” I call bullshit.


  1. 95% of type2 diabetics were obese when they were told by their doctor they had diabetes. Is being obese now considered normal and healthy?

    1. First I will take exception to your “statistic”. People who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes come in all shapes and sizes. I might concede that the majority of folks might be overweight at diagnosis but there is no way that they are nearly all obese. (This is a myth that is rampant and needs to be squashed.) Second: When did I say that being obese is normal and healthy? Never. The point of my post, dear Anonymous, is to say that how someone looks is not an indicator of their health and people should refrain from making assumptions. This is a point that you seem to have missed entirely. Third: There are many scientists and doctors who are looking at the idea that insulin resistance is causing the weight gain as opposed to the idea that excess weight is causing diabetes. People who have type 2 have had insulin resistance for as much as a decade before they are diagnosed. As I mentioned in my post, excess insulin in your bloodstream is stored as fat. Fourth: I also alluded to the fact that our society has not done a good job of providing healthy food options for the masses, nor does it make it easy for people to exercise. Most of our cities are designed for cars, not people. Too many people live in food deserts and have limited options when grocery shopping. The cost of food can be a barrier. Fast food, large portions and processed carbohydrates are fueling the rise in weight. Obesity and being overweight are not to be ignored but the people who are dealing with that condition shouldn’t be blamed. Instead, as a society we should be doing something to help them fight it. Again, my post is about making assumptions about people based solely on their appearances. It was not intended to discuss how much people weigh and whether or not that is considered normal.

  2. Maybe if all people would eat a little less and move a little more we would all be a little healthier.

  3. I hate that this argument keeps happening again and again and again. We need to stop blaming patients for their conditions. And I'm realizing it isn't just diabetes. My dad is in early stages of dementia. One night he wandered out of the house and didn't know where he was. Luckily, a neighbor him and took him home. And my mom said "I think the whole thing scared him, because he's been much better lately.". Which, when I thought about it later, was implying he can control his dementia. *sigh* I just don't know how we fight this!!

    (Sorry for the massive dump - this has been heavy on my mind and your post really spoke to me . . . )


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