The language movement in diabetes

US experts issue guidance on #LanguageMatters

By Dr Adriana Ventura


The American Diabetes Association (ADA) and American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) have published a joint paper, with a series of recommendations about the words used in diabetes.

It is well known that language can have a strong impact on health perceptions and behaviour. The use of certain words can serve, intentionally or not, to undermine, blame, shame, and stigmatise, while more positive language can motivate, inspire and encourage. Although the call for “a new language for diabetes” is not new (see Diabetes Australia’s 2011 Position Statement), the current article offers simple recommendations for communicating with and about people living with diabetes, that are based on up-to-date, evidence-based research. Furthermore, this joint publication from the US professional bodies signifies that the language movement is gaining strength across the world – and takes the call for action to a global audience.

In developing their recommendations, the US task-force adopted four guiding principles. In brief:

  1. Diabetes is a complex and challenging condition
  2. Diabetes is a stigmatised condition and stigma can contribute to stress
  3. The healthcare team can be more effective through an approach that is respectful, inclusive a person-centred.
  4. Empowering, strengths-based language can improve communication and enhance motivation, health and wellbeing.

While these principles will inform and guide healthcare professionals in using language that is person-first, more research is needed to explore specific issues surrounding language in diabetes education and care. For example, what is the relationship between language and stigma in diabetes, and why does language affect some people more than others?  Overall, we welcome this publication, which will increase awareness of person-first language in diabetes, and encourage health professionals across the world to reflect on their current practice.

Dickinson JK, Guzman SJ, et al. The Use of Language in Diabetes Care and Education. Diabetes Care; 2017 Oct; dci170041.