Living with a chronic condition can be challenging. Living with a chronic condition with a stigma attached to it doesn’t make it any easier. A stigma is the negative thought that some people may have about a characteristic or trait, which may cause them to think less of the person with that characteristic—in this case, that characteristic would be a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. If you’ve ever felt shame about your type 2 diabetes, you aren’t alone.
A survey of over 5,000 people living with diabetes conducted by a marketing research firm in 2014 supports this concept. The survey found that, out of the estimated 70% of participants with type 2 diabetes, just over 50% of that group felt stigmatized because of their disease. In the survey, people who felt stigmatized responded that they felt as though they were responsible for their health-related struggles, and that led to feelings of “guilt, shame, embarrassment, isolation, or blame.”
The reality is that a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is not a choice: it’s a complex disease caused by a number of factors, including lifestyle and genes. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and someone in this country is newly diagnosed with the condition every 21 seconds.
For those who are living with the disease—and suffering from the stigma—here are some myths about type 2 diabetes that may help you address any possible negativity surrounding the condition and educate others in the process.
Myth: If you’re overweight, you will develop type 2 diabetes.
Fact: While being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, so are many other factors, including physical inactivity, age, and family history. Type 2 diabetes tends to run in families from certain ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
Myth: Type 2 diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.
Fact: The body turns the food you eat into glucose, also known as blood sugar. When blood sugar levels stay too high because the body’s insulin is not working properly or the body can’t make enough insulin, type 2 diabetes develops. But it’s incorrect to say that type 2 diabetes is caused by high sugar alone. When a person’s diet is too high in calories of any kind, that can lead to weight gain, which can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.
Myth: Diabetes isn’t a serious disease.
Fact: Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s the leading cause of kidney failure and blindness in American adults. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed by eating a healthy diet, being active, losing weight, taking medications as prescribed, and keeping scheduled appointments with your health care provider.
Knowledge is power
In addition to educating yourself and talking to your health care provider about diabetes, find out what’s available in your community to help support people with type 2 diabetes. By learning more about type 2 diabetes and connecting with others who live with it, you may be able to inform others and challenge the myths they believe with facts that can help reduce the stigma surrounding this disease.