The Ricki Lake Type 1 Blunder


Last week on “Good Morning America” actress and former talk show host, Ricki Lake, said juvenile diabetes was preventable. She’s since apologized. “This was a mistake on my part and in no way was meant to offend anyone dealing with the very serious disease of juvenile diabetes.”

Lake was speaking about her new book and AllStride program to combat childhood obesity when she made her mistake. “I commented that juvenile diabetes was preventable when in fact it is type 2 diabetes. This was a mistake on my part and in no way was meant to offend anyone dealing with the very serious disease of juvenile diabetes.”

I’m not offended. In fact, I’m a little delighted. Her mistake only confirms the public’s confusion about type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Even Lake’s interviewer smart guy, George Stephanopalous, didn’t catch her mistake. Now that is one thing I am sorry about. That the error was not snuffed out in its tracks and may deepen the confusion for those who didn’t catch Lake’s apology.

You’d think Lake, who’s advocating stemming the tide of childhood obesity – linked to the rise of type 2 diabetes in children – would know better than to confuse juvenile diabetes (type 1) with type 2 diabetes (adult onset diabetes). Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition, not related to weight or a sedentary lifestyle and it’s not preventable or reversible.

Lake probably does know better, and it was probably a glitch of the mind, just a slip of the tongue. Then again, she actually made two mistakes. The name “juvenile diabetes” was changed to “type 1 diabetes” in 1997.

Then again you’d think Dr. Oz, “America’s doctor,” would know better. When he appeared last year on Oprah Winfrey’s program on diabetes he actually said, “Type 1 is also called juvenile diabetes and you are born with it.” Oh, my, born with it. That’s a pretty HUGE mistake! Just to clarify, while type 1 diabetes occurs more often in children than adults, you are not born with it.

Do I blame Lake for her blunders? Not at all. These are the type of mistakes the general public make all the time. Most people don’t even know there’s such a thing as type 1 diabetes as we are so overshadowed by all the media and pharma attention on type 2 diabetes. I am less understanding however how Dr. Oz could get it so wrong.

Maybe you’re thinking what’s the big deal? The big deal is multi-pronged. I believe the lack of recognition of type 1 diabetes and understanding its daily life-threatening nature, impedes urgent and necessary funding toward a cure.

The fact that type 1s are judged harshly by the public for “causing their condition” is just plain hurtful, just as much as to type 2s. The fact that we are invisible against the large canvas of type 2 diabetes is often painful. The fact that the public is so misinformed and uninformed may actually hinder life-saving treatment when a type 1 needs it.

So let’s go back to that “life-threatening” part: As a type 1 every day, every few hours, I have to test my blood sugar and then often do something to return it to a near-to-normal, safe zone. If my blood sugar’s too low I can fall into a coma and die. If my blood sugar’s too high my body can produce toxic acid in my blood stream called ketoacidosis, and over time I will likely succumb to a premature heart attack, blindness, amputation, host of nerve conditions and have a life span 15 years shorter than if I didn’t have type 1 diabetes.

If you’re interested, you’ll find a side by side comparison of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in“The type 1 versus Type 2 Diabetes War.”

One thing I noticed in the diabetes community regards Lake’s mistake was upset from parents of children with type 1 diabetes. If you want a little window into living with type 1 diabetes ask any parent who has a child with it. A mother or father who has to hold their five year old down every day to give her several injections a day. Who has to poke their child’s hurting, tiny little fingers all through the day to get a read and regulate her blood sugar. Who has to force their child to eat when she doesn’t want to and stop her from eating when she does. Make her move when she doesn’t want to and stop her from moving when she does.

Most parents go to sleep fearful every night that their child will not wake up due to a dangerous blood sugar drop overnight that can not always be predicted or prevented.

I have asked these parents what it’s like. I also know that children with type 1 diabetes grow up and become the person sitting next to you, sitting unseen with her invisible life-threatening disease.

I think type 1 diabetes needs the recognition that type 2 diabetes has gained. I think the roughly 3 million people with type 1 diabetes, living in the shadow of the almost 25 million with type 2 diabetes, deserve to be acknowledged for what they live with and what they do to keep living, every day. For their courage, for their hope, for their tenacity.

So Ricki, while some say your mistake has added to the myths of diabetes, I thank you for what it has also done – brought more media attention to type 1 diabetes than we’ve had in a long time.

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8 years ago

I was diagnosed with T1d at 19, I remember experiencing many situations when cake or ice cream being passed around and “oh you cant have any” was what I had to hear. I wasn’t allowed to say no thanks, cause you know those type 2’s they can/do eat that crap. Ive had nurses ask me why I don’t take pills to manage my diabetes, then argue that I could. I have seen many t2d that drink regular soda daily and eat sweets. While I sit there thinking, I would be in so much pain if I did that. I don’t… Read more »

9 years ago

I love what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work and reporting!
Keep up the superb works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to our blogroll.

Kerry Ann
11 years ago

Dear Riva,  I’ve been t1 for 23 years since age 6, and have never been much of an advocate because, like many of us, I figured- really my life is pretty good and I just want to get on with it and not complain- but lately these issues are getting out of hand.  I started posting a “quiz of the day” on facebook and posting some articles during diabetes awareness month, and your blog posts are a fantastic resource to share with friends and even family who don’t understand the condition.  Thank you so much for writing this blog and… Read more »

11 years ago

Aw geez… Dr. Oz may be a SUPERB cardiac surgeon — but he’s WAY out of his depth as a “general” (TV) practitioner!   The only reason he’s so famous — and now giving “typical” (unscientific, biased, standard-old, and sometimes idiotic) advice — is because Oprah plucked him WAY out of his competence zone and set him up as some kind of medical encyclopedia.
Very sad, very bad!

Scott K. Johnson
11 years ago

Very well said Riva – I appreciate you sharing this information, and love what Ginger said about your “patient and full-picture perspective”.  So true!

Riva Greenberg
11 years ago

We’re all in this aren’t we just to help each other. Thanks Ginger

11 years ago

Riva – great article, I’m glad someone took the time to really write about this thoughtfully. In the end, Ricki made a mistake and she didn’t mean to. She’s human! And these people are trying to cover big topics in short amounts of time.
Thanks, Riva. I appreciate your patient and full-picture perspective!

Riva Greenberg
11 years ago

Lora, no one can know what this is like to live with, or have a child with, unless you’re in that seat. Let me also tell you having had type 1 now for almost 39 years that managing this condition – and having so many more tools and info to help us do that today – that your child may have a very good life, and even find something he or she has gained down the road ie a greater appreciation for life, compassion etc. Please remember that on a tough day.

11 years ago

Thank you for a thoughtful, insightful, and accurate article. As a mother of a 2 year old, type 1 diabetic who was diagnosed at 10 months old, I appreciate your words. Also, I feel the same way about the Ricki Lake blunder – it has given some much needed attention to the type 1 world. :)

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