CNN’s “Fake” Diabetes News


Last spring CNN ran a story on one of its correspondents, Cristina Alesci, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult. And a few days ago I came across the video of Ms. Alesci pleasantly sharing the way she manages diabetes in her busy life. I love seeing a person with type 1 diabetes powering through, which is what Alesci has done since her diagnosis. What I cannot stand is the fact that neither she nor the production team at CNN seems to have fact-checked the story to ensure that type 1 diabetes was represented accurately and clearly. It is a three-and-a-half-minute story about type 1 diabetes which doesn’t even give a definition of the disease.

Those watching the segment with no knowledge of diabetes would have finished it feeling either confused or armed with the wrong information about type 1 diabetes and how it is treated. The segment begins with Alesci’s passion for Italian food, and then her “out of the blue” diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. This could easily perpetuate the idea that eating too much is the cause of diabetes.

One minute into the video, the interviewer, Holly Firfer, asks Alesci to explain being diagnosed so late in life “because usually we see this in kids.” Alesci confirms the statement saying, “that’s exactly right.”

Unfortunately, they are both wrong.

Despite the old misnomer “juvenile diabetes,” most people with type 1 diabetes are adults – around 85%, according to JDRF. JDRF also notes, “Each year, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults—approximately 80 people per day—are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the U.S.” Or in other words, half of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are adults.

Immediately after saying that doctors don’t know what triggered her type 1 diabetes, at one minute and twenty seconds into the video, Alesci says, “it’s a genetic defect, obviously, and as a result I’m not producing as much insulin as I should be producing.”

Again, wrong. The correct explanation is:

No one knows what causes type 1 diabetes. It is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system misfires and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is the hormone enables us to get energy from food, and without it, a person will starve to death. So in order to survive, people with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin regularly.

Alesci’s statement about not producing enough insulin is concerning because it misinforms the public about an important aspect of type 1 diabetes. In a person with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas, in most cases, stops producing insulin altogether.

Eventually the segment cuts to some clips of Alesci checking her blood sugar and showing her “go low” snack drawer. She does mention the need to eat “carbs” (carbohydrates) when she has low blood sugar, but without more information, a person without any real knowledge of diabetes who mistakenly thinks that eating donuts gives you diabetes, would likely be thinking, ‘’Wait, why would someone with diabetes be eating carbs?’’ Moreover, it was a perfect moment to educate the public about the dangers of a low blood sugar. Instead, the Ms. Firfer quips about the ‘low’ height of the ‘go low’ drawer.

What they could have said:

Firfer: Why do you need the go low drawer?

Alesci: It’s really hard to dose insulin correctly. If I take too much I will go low and need sugar (carbs) immediately. A person with very low blood sugar can pass out, have a seizure, and even die. People with type 1 diabetes have to monitor their blood sugar constanly, and work very hard to stay healthy.

We see many images of Alesci eating salads with talk of the need for healthy diet and workouts, but there is otherwise no other description or context for this. It just adds confusion for viewers and conflates type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

I will circle back again to the empowering side of this segment. Alesci wants to show that “diabetes will not hold you back” and I applaud that. However, she says this amidst an ending montage where she also claims “I want to make a change, I want better research… you can make change for yourself and you can make change for the people around you.” We see her taking another bite of salad as she makes these proclamations, so are we to assume dietary change is what she thinks is needed?

And perhaps most confusing of all is the line that eating well and regular exercise help keep Alesci’s ‘’insulin levels’’ stable. What she’s actually doing is keeping her blood sugar level stable. Not to mention, it is the constant blood sugar checking, insulin dosing, carbohydrate counting and calculations that are also contributing to her stable blood sugars.

CNN missed a golden opportunity to not only educate people with the facts about type 1 diabetes, but to show just how much work is involved in managing it every day. It is a true shame that CNN did not take more care to get the facts right in order to better represent life with diabetes.

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Elizabeth–I encourage you and your followers to read the personal essay Cristina wrote for Refinery29 around the same time CNN aired the piece you critiqued. You will see most if not all of your points addressed here: She also wrote poignantly about the personal anguish her diagnosis caused her, which might resonate with you and your readers.


I wrote comments on this article and submitted them shortly after it came out. I spent a long time trying to write a thoughtful response to this article, albeit quite critical. I am disappointed to see that while Ms. Rowley is quick to pass judgment on CNN, she is not quick to allow criticism of her own journalism.


I agree that there’s a lot of false information and unintentional wrong ideas about diabetes on general and type 1 especially. A few years after being diagnosed myself, I see how we got used to the “knowledge” we have about diabetes, we protect it fiercely, yet we don’t really know anything.
If so many basic primary details are not known to anyone, how can we proclaim other facts about the disease?

Mary Dexter
Mary Dexter

Writing about diabetes is difficult to do without getting some things wrong. Research is proving that not all the beta cells are destroyed and many adults with Type 1 and LADA still produce some insulin, just not enough. See Dr. Faustman’s research. Everyone needs to be more accurate, even you.

Rick Phillips

There is no good time to get or have diabetes. I am disheartened that she did not tell the best story about a condition we share.


She is lucky she got type1 later in life, Most type1s get it very early in life and have to deal with even greater physical and mental stress in school and college. This added stress and job discrimination holds back many type1 diabetics from doing and achieving what they want to do in life. She should be investigating where the type1 cure promised in the 80’s is.


JDRF also notes, “Each year, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults—approximately 80 people per day—are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the U.S.” Or in other words, half of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are adults.

No one is lucky to get type 1.


The title of this article plays into the current discussion of sensationalist “news,” yellow journalism, a.k.a. “fake news.” The title claims that the report is “fake news” and it is not. There is a clear difference between a made-up, fake, or “creatively embellished,” as opposed to plain old poor journalism. As such, the author’s choice to contribute to a very real and heated political discussion of “fake news” fueling anti-media sentiments (much aimed specifically at CNN by President Trump) is just as disappointing as the news report itself, if not more so. The news piece does have inaccuracies, but they… Read more »

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