Laying Blame: Why Do People Get Diabetes?

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Why do people get diabetes? People get diabetes because they’re fat. They get diabetes because they don’t exercise. They get it because they’re lazy and they lack discipline in controlling their appetites. They get diabetes because they’re out of shape slobs. People get diabetes because they deserve it.

Most people won’t say this to your face, but that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking it. The extent to which people believe that diabetes is the fault of the diabetic became very apparent, recently, after a finger pointing exchange about blame for the condition by two celebrity chefs. And what that reveals is an underlying societal discrimination of diabetics that could cost people their lives.

In January celebrity chef Paula Deen revealed she had type 2 diabetes. The creator of a hamburger featuring doughnuts in place of a bun was met with a backlash of blame. She was drawn into a kafuffle with fellow celeb chef Anthony Bourdain when he said he thought it was in “bad taste” for Deen to be dishing high fat Southern cuisine while she had diabetes and had not told the public about her condition. The implication was that Deen’s recipe for loaded mashed potatoes was the food equivalent of a loaded gun because, clearly, eating such rich foods leads inevitably to diabetes.

“People out there with diabetes haven’t chosen this,” Deen said in response to Bourdain’s comment. “It’s not their fault. So many things play into whether or not you get diabetes. I thought [what Bourdain said] was very, very cruel.” (prevention.com)

And that’s when it got ugly. That was when people stepped up and, from behind their anonymous postings on blogs and Internet sites, laid the blame where they believe the blame belongs.

“Look people, there are consequences for what you put in your body,” an anonymous poster wrote on thestir.com in response to an article about Deen and how much responsibility she should shoulder for her condition. “This isn’t some autoimmune disease. It won’t ‘just happen no matter what you do.” If you are taking dietary and/or health advice from a woman who ate herself into obesity, you deserve what you get.”

There’s that word: deserve. The “they deserve it” argument isn’t new to healthcare. People who smoke cigarettes deserve to get lung cancer. Gay men who engage in unprotected sex deserve to get AIDS. Overweight people deserve to suffer heart attacks. The “they deserve it” argument, however, is more than just an opinion about Old Testament retribution for lifestyle choices.

In the cases of AIDS, lung cancer, and heart disease, more people died and got sick than otherwise might have because the idea that they deserved to be sick was accepted on a mass scale. That institutionalized belief in blame restricted funding, which hampered research, which, in turn, cost lives.

As an example, President Ronald Reagan spoke about AIDS for the first time in 1987, more than six years after the virus was first identified. Between 1981 and 1987 almost 60,000 people had acquired the virus, and almost 28,000 had died. If Reagan had made a speech about the need for AIDS research and treatment in 1982, how many people’s lives may have been significantly extended through research into creating more effective medications?

With diabetes, we’re in 1981. Paula Deen helps provide another example of how thoroughly accepted it is to casually blame diabetics for their diabetes. When Deen was poised to reveal she had diabetes, ABC News previewed her announcement in a story called: “Paula Deen to Confess She Has Type 2 Diabetes.”

Confess? Don’t people typically “confess” to something they’re guilty of, something they’re to blame for?

While it might seem silly to think the name of an ABC News story is a cultural bellwether, it’s not once you look at some numbers that are representative of overall research spending. In 2006, according to the New York Times, the United States government spent ten times more, per patient, researching cancer than researching diabetes. This despite the fact that the number of people with diabetes is on the rise, while the number of cancer patients is falling.

One way to explain that disparity is that most people simply don’t believe diabetics deserve more investment in a cure. After all, they’re already getting what they deserve.

For more from Alex O’Meara see his essay Curing Diabetes: Would I Do It Again?

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24 Comments on "Laying Blame: Why Do People Get Diabetes?"

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Diane Cohen
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Diane Cohen

I wish you had differentiated between type 1 and type 2

Member

As a person with type 1 diabetes I’ve been told many times “but you aren’t fat” or “did you eat a lot of XXX”. It’s true that type 1s are blamed less for their condition but it still happens all the time.

Karen Graffeo
Guest

No one deserves to get diabetes – Type 1 or Type 2.  I have Type 1, but my Type 2 friends should not be blamed for their diabetes any more than I should be blamed for mine.  None of us chose this, and all of us deserve a cure.

Cathy
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Cathy

Wow – what an article. It is my biggest fear that THIS is why funding and support for type 1 diabetes is lacking. The stigma attached to the word “diabetes” means that so many people think that my daughter has type 1 because I “fed her too many sweets” or because I am overweight. Seriously, when are we as a human race going to stop pointing the finger at others?

Lisa
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Lisa

I am SO TIRED of people being obsessed with the difference between Type 1 and Type 2.  I am a Type 1, and I know plenty of both types, and let me tell you no one has it “easy”.  We all suffer, overcome, battle and celebrate because of and in spite of this disease.  No one squabbles or compares what type of cancer they have.  Instead of getting bogged down with labels we should focus on coming together as a group of people, supporting each other as we strive to win the fight over diabetes.
 
Fantastic article, loved it.

Member

Excellent post. Just makes me want to go rghhhhhh…!!! 

Member
So the interesting question this raises is: if diabetics “deserve” what they get, does America deserve the massive health care problem we’re going to have over the next fifty years as predicted by the CDC? I wonder where we’ll start pointing the finger if the number of diabetics surpasses 50% of Americans. At that point, is it really safe to assume the majority of people are individually making the same bad decisions? The reasonable thing to do seems to be to suspect a more endemic problem. I think your example of Ronny Ray-gun and AIDS brings up a crucial point,… Read more »
Natalie ._c-
Guest
The idea that Type 2 diabetics “deserve” what they got is rooted in ignorance and willful refusal to consider the known facts about the disease. Before we get increased funding for research into Type 2, we need the media to present the correct interpretation of the facts, including genetic vulnerability, societal pressure, and market forces. For starters, they need to acknowledge that obesity does NOT cause Type 2 — otherwise, why would 25% of the population be obese without ever getting diabetes? Obesity is a disease in its own right, and needs research dollars as well, but diabetes is a… Read more »
zack
Guest
zack

Anthony Bourdain’s comment wasn’t that she deserved it. It was that here she was with a preventable disease selling other people on the same food that gave it to her for 3 years. It’s knowingly passing on bad information to unsuspecting people. It’s irresponsible and wrong.

carl
Guest
carl

zack it is your thinking that perpectuates the stigma that type 2 diabetes carries. You need to be educated.

Catherine
Guest
Wow — a provocative (and useful!) piece. Some of the more interesting sessions from the ADA Scientific Sessions this week were about epigenetics, and how your genes (and likelihood for type 2) can be affected by the nutritional status/health of not just your mother (while she was pregnant with you), but the parents of both your mother and your father (i.e. your grandparents). It’s very easy to point fingers, but in the case of Type 2 diabetes it seems that rather than assigning blame, we should be working together on prevention and treatment. There are just too many variables at… Read more »
Katy
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Katy
Wow. I can’t believe people think like this. I mean, yes, being healthy is important and can help prevent type 2, but plenty of people will get it anyway! And then type 1. I am shocked how many people think I caused my type 1! The two should have different names or something… Don’t get it wrong I’m not against type 2s, and plenty do eat healthy, or try! So the stereotypes are from the few that don’t take care of themselves. Wow. Really Mature. I think we need a cure for both types, and definetly more awareness. Thanks for… Read more »
KIMBERLY
Guest
KIMBERLY

WHAT ABOUT BABIES THAT ARE BORN WITH TYPE 1 DIABETES? ARE THEY GETTING WHAT THEY DESERVE? TYPE 1 DIABETES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WEIGHT OR EXERCISING. MY SON WAS DIAGNOSED WHEN HE WAS 9 YEARS OLD, AND LET ME TELL YOU, DIABETES 1 IS NOT PREJUDICE. IT DOESN’T CARE WHAT COLOR YOU ARE, WEIGHT, AGE, OR WHAT YOUR FINANCIAL STATUS IS. I THINK THAT IGNORANT PEOPLE GET WHAT THEY DESERVE. GET EDUCATED, AND REMEMBER TYPE 1 DIABETES CAN ALWAYS GET YOU OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE.

Tim
Guest
With the stress the average American diet puts on everybody’s body, it’s a miracle anyone can be “skinny” in this society. The availability of cheap, processed foods, aided and abetted by our government and the food & beverage industries has led to a diet too rich in carbs. Type 2 diabetes MAY be avoidable, but that does not mean it always is. The big problem that I had is that Paula Deen seemed to wait about her announcement until she had a drug endorsement deal. I don’t blame her for developing Type 2 diabetes, but it APPEARED that her only… Read more »
Lisa
Guest
ummm….I hate to burst your bubble Lisa, not that it’s a squabble but in a support group for breast cancer, the stage 1’s will be afraid of the stage 3+’s because there before the grace of God they go. And stage 3+’s will think “Quit whining, you got off without chemo and a mastectomy, there is a 98% chance that your cancer will never return, why are you even here?” Let me tell you, we all have to watch our diet and exercise, but I think I’m the stage 1 of this disease. While sometimes I’d like to bolus and eat… Read more »
Libby
Guest
Libby

I am a Type 2 diabetic and I do not feel that I deserve to be diabetic. I have a genetic disposition for diabetes on my Mother’s side of the family. There are 4 to 5 generations of diabetes in her family. So do I deserve to be diabetic?

JustAnother
Guest
JustAnother
As a Type 1, my feeling is that there really isn’t much benefit to combining the two, very different diseases, as one. Paula Deen’s disease has nothing to do with mine. They have 2 different causes, mainly 2 different paths of treatment and even though the ADA combines the two as one for fund raising purposes, neither has a cure. Both are able to be turned down for coverage by insurance companies. Both illicit unwelcome comments from the ignorant general population. The only difference I see is that Type 2s have more avenues of treatment than Type 1s. I will… Read more »
GreyBee
Guest
GreyBee
“Just another”, you are not right that Type 2 has nothing to do with Type 1. As my top notch endocrinologist has put it, in a Type 1, the pancreas doesn’t make insulin. In a Type 2, the pancreas often makes too little insulin. In addition, many Type 2 diabetics are insulin resistant, which means that no matter how much insulin there is, the body’s cells are not receptive. That means the cells do not get energy and blood sugar builds up in our system. My endocrinologist is a more recent graduate and up on all the latest research and… Read more »
kristin
Guest
kristin

I have had diabetes since I was 9 years old. I’m now 27 years old. When my family and I found out we were told that I didn’t do anything wrong to get it.

JR
Guest

Of course no one deserves diabetes. It would be awful form to wish that upon another. That said, living an unhealthy lifestyle with little exercise and lots of sugary foods is inviting diabetes into your body. There is no way to protect yourself 100 percent no matter how healthy you live, but I find it hard to sympathize with overweight people and the bevy of health problems that leaves them at risk for.  Go for walks, see a dietician. You will live better, and hopefully longer. 

joel crawford
Guest
joel crawford
Hi all I have type 2. This email I send out to all those ignorant people out there who play the blame game and do not know the facts. I am a 33 year old man who also has arthritis problems’ and I have Epilepsy on top. Throughout my teens and 20s I was a very active person on a very healthy non fat or sugar diet. I have won many sporting awards, comps, tournaments and have represented at state and international level. at one stage between 19 – 25 I never had take away, touch booze or drank coffee or… Read more »
David
Guest
David

I’m 380lbs I drink more than 5 cans of soda daily and never go outside for any reason. I eat junk food more than anything else. I’m in my thirties. I’ve lived this lifestyle since I was born. I’m nowhere close to having diabetes and that makes me suspicious. If what everyone says is true how can a kid have diabetes but I can live all the way up to my adult life without a hint of problems.

Erica
Guest
Erica

“This isn’t some autoimmune disease. It won’t ‘just happen no matter what you do.”

Ummm, actually look up LADA. There IS autoimmune diabetes. Idiot.

Ariana
Guest
Ariana

As a person with type one diabetes I believe that its no ones fault its just the way your body works and people with type one are not fat at all.

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