Monday, 27 April 2015

Listening to a Diabetes Diet – Food for Thought?

Radio 4’s ‘Food Programme’ focused yesterday on diabetes and food. A very welcome focus, stimulated in part, says the blurb, by the large number of people diagnosed with diabetes, contacting Diabetes UK to ask ‘what can I eat?’

The programme brought together an impressive line up of experts to discuss the answer to this question, including representatives from Diabetes UK, a media doctor whose own son has Type 1 diabetes, a specialist dietitian and a radio presenter with longstanding Type 1 diabetes. Together they were able to explain what diabetes is, how common is Type 2 diabetes and gave some good messages about what a healthy ‘diet’ consists of, including ways that less healthy options can be improved (with, generally, extra vegetables added). Particularly welcome was the news that Boots and Thorntons are phasing out their ‘diabetic’ food ranges and the emphasis by Diabetes UK on trying to get away from the idea of ‘a diabetic diet’

Although the focus was on food, as ever from an SD point of view, the most interesting aspects were the personal stories alluded to by those there to discuss actually living with diabetes. The media doctor described the challenges of helping a young child learn to live with daily injections and how even as a doctor, the emotional burden was the same as any parent would experience. He sounded clearly very proud of his now grown up son, (who has in turn become a GP) and relieved that he is living a very healthy life, something that will have resonated loudly with many parents of young children, and perhaps given them some consolation

JP, the radio presenter with Type 1 diabetes, described a huge family history of diabetes, much of it also Type 1. Even so, upon his own diagnosis, it had come as something of a shock to him what a juggling act it really was to live with this condition. He wasn’t so keen on eating out, he said, because historically it hadn’t been so easy to match his insulin timings to the food arriving. Even though times had changed, he still tended to follow what he’d been taught at the beginning, for example, eating as little sugar as possible

An item towards the start of the programme focused on someone newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes who in a relatively short interview, was able to reveal a range of concerns about having diabetes. This included finding unexpected amounts of sugar ‘lurking’ everywhere, for example, in tonic water, but more poignantly, the worries about passing on poor health to her sons and not wishing to ‘be a burden’ if she developed complications.

None of the personal aspects and emotional effects of living with diabetes were meant to be part of this programme, but they ‘leaked out’ anyway. Perhaps this is because food itself is an emotional issue for many people or perhaps, whatever the official topic under discussion, these are the aspects that matter most, as living with diabetes is so intricately bound within family and social relationships and our very identity. A programme putting this centre-stage would be a recipe for a very tasty listen.

BBC Radio 4: The Food Programme. 26.4.15

Monday, 13 April 2015

A suitable image for diabetes?

The news today carries an item about imagery for mental illness, with the organisation ‘Time to Change’ advocating a new way to portray those experiencing mental health issues, distress and despair. They suggest more neutral, supportive pictures, rather than the traditional ‘head in hands’ approach.

Being in total support of this, it made us think of the imagery that is used for portraying diabetes. Back in 2008, when Successful Diabetes was launched, we searched for a logo to show what our company aimed to achieve. You can see the finished article on our blog here, and also on our website. We’ve (thankfully) had many compliments over the years, especially in the vein of ‘it is so different to show diabetes as success story, it’s so often one of failure’.

But the logo wasn’t like this to start with. When we gave our name and ideas to the people designing the logo, the first suggestions focused on diabetes, complete with syringes, needles, finger pricks, plasters and doctors with stethoscopes round their necks. The ‘successful’ part of our name was pretty much ignored. After we gently pointed out that we didn’t want to focus on the medical, each new draft gradually featured such images less and less until, finally, there were none – which is just the way we like it!

Reflecting on this experience, it seems to show how ‘hardwired’ the images representing diabetes, seemed to be then. In turn, this made us wonder what images are tending being used to ‘show diabetes’ today. So, we had a (very unscientific) ‘straw poll’ of a few websites, and here is what we found:

Rather pleasingly, it looks like things have changed: even on the most ‘diabetes’ of websites (mentioning no names of course!), the images of people, whether living with diabetes or health professionals are really positive and realistic, with not a stethoscope in sight! Families are shown doing everyday activities, to represent coping with diabetes in the mix, happy groups of people on holidays seem to show that it is possible to enjoy life as well as having diabetes. There’s even a picture of people smiling, under the heading ‘hypos and how to cope with them’!!

A couple of aspects were noticeable, however. It seems that where research is discussed, there’s a universal tendency towards pictures of test tubes and white coated scientists with goggles on. Perhaps this stereotype hasn’t quite been attended to yet? and images of food, either under the banner of healthy or unhealthy, quite often feature a large burger and fries! This seems to be an extremely enduring, and all-purpose, image – we wondered if continuing to use it does more harm than good, but that is probably a blog for another day!

One website does deserve a mention because it seemed to use imagery consistently neutrally and successfully throughout. The International Diabetes Federation has a series of outline figures in different poses which give some really clear messages without any assumptions, and also showing that imagery can be made understandable in whichever language the website is accessed in.

What’s your image of diabetes? do you prefer the medical or the personal? The detailed or the vague? Do put us in the picture below!


Hawkins, K. Mental health and the death of the ‘headclutcher’ picture. ‘Ouch’ blog, 13.4.15