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End the ignorance and misconceptions tied with diabetes


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the seventh biggest killer in the United States. However, it is also one of the least talked about diseases. Therefore, people don’t know a lot about this disease and are forced to make up their own beliefs, most of which are wrong and offensive. 

   A lot of the time, these misconceptions of what causes diabetes shows up in the classroom, specifically math class. Almost everyone has had the math problem about someone eating an absurd amount of chocolate, followed by the offhand student remark, “If I ate that much chocolate, I’d have diabetes.” This is not only offensive, but also very wrong. People don’t eat a lot of chocolate and then wake up the next day with diabetes. It’s a lot more complex than that. 

Infographic by Carlynn Claypool. Source: American Diabetes Association

   First, you must learn what diabetes is before you can learn what causes it. Diabetes is an auto-immune disease that affects the pancreas and there are two types. A normal, working pancreas controls a person’s blood sugars which is vital to survival because if someone’s blood sugars were to go too high or too low, they would die. Since diabetes affects the pancreas, a person with diabetes can’t rely on their pancreas to control their blood sugars. Depending on the diabetes, it is treated in different ways. For people with type 1 diabetes, they have to use a drug known as insulin which is inserted into the bloodstream via needles multiple times a day. For people with other diabetes, it is generally treated with a long-term insulin shot once a week.

    Knowing what diabetes is helps you learn the causes of the two most common types of diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The main cause for type 1 diabetes, which usually is diagnosed during childhood, is unknown. According to Mayo Clinic, scientists have found that the immune system, which is supposed to protect us from getting sick, fights and kills the cells in the pancreas that control our blood sugars. This leaves our body without the naturally produced insulin, leaving type 1 diabetics to rely on the scientifically produced insulin.

Infographic by Carlynn Claypool.

   Type 2 diabetes is caused when a person becomes resistant to insulin and sugar builds up in the bloodstream. According to the Mayo Clinic, scientists don’t know why this happens, but they believe that there is a genetic factor. Scientists also believe that being overweight is a factor that causes type 2 diabetes, and I believe this is where the main misconceptions come from. People tend to connect chocolate to being overweight, but according to EurekAlert, eating chocolate is associated with lower fat, and therefore is not the main cause for people becoming overweight. Therefore, eating a lot of chocolate doesn’t lead to diabetes. This ties directly back to the “math class joke” because it proves that this joke is misconceived and shows ignorance. 

   This joke is just one among many that are offensive, overused, and uneducated. That’s the problem because so many people are uneducated, even though 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the CDC. In fact, I am one of those 34 million people and these jokes are very hurtful. I have been a type 1 diabetic for almost six years now and for a very long time, I was very secretive and shy about being a diabetic. I didn’t want people to judge me or make assumptions about me. Unfortunately, people, especially kids, choose to make assumptions about diabetes and that leads to ignorant comments like the math class example. I actually remember exactly who said that exact joke in math class soon after I was first diagnosed and all it did was make me feel worse about myself.    This happens to so many other people, too, most of whom are younger than I was like my cousin who was diagnosed when he was five years old. That’s why it is so important to be informed about this disease. So, if you are going to make a joke about diabetes during class, then don’t. Help end the ignorance and misconceptions that are tied to diabetes.

Carlynn Claypool, Community Chair

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End the ignorance and misconceptions tied with diabetes