‘The Language of Diabetes: The Good the Bad and the Ugly’ is among Diabetic Medicine’s top 20 most downloaded papers

Prof Jane Speight discusses the role of this impactful editorial in a growing global movement to improve #LanguageMatters in diabetes. 


We are delighted to share the news that an editorial co-authored by Prof Jane Speight, ‘The language of diabetes: the good the bad and the ugly’, is among Diabetic Medicine’s top 20 most downloaded papers in 2016/17.  It was announced recently that the editorial had been downloaded 1,443 times by the end of 2017, which is particularly impressive given it was not published until 17 October 2017.

The editorial, which is free to download here via open access, deconstructs a conversation between two health professionals. While the conversation is fictional, the words and phrases are used commonly – read in journals, and heard in clinical settings, meetings and at conferences. The editorial then reworks the conversation using more positive, empathic language to demonstrate how impactful our words can be, both to demotivate or to empower.

Professor Richard Holt (University of Southampton) invited Jane to co-author the editorial, in recognition of her leadership of Diabetes Australia’s position statement: ‘A new language for diabetes’ (also available here as a peer-reviewed article). As Editor-in-Chief of Diabetic Medicine and a member of the NHS England working group on ‘Language Matters’ (published on 11 June 2018), Prof Holt was eager to engage the journal’s readers about the importance of the words we use in communications with and about people with diabetes.

Changing the way we write about diabetes

Importantly, Diabetic Medicine has recently updated the style guide in its author guidelines to promote person-first language (‘person with diabetes’ rather than ‘diabetic’; ‘men and women’ rather than ‘males and females’, and ‘study participants’ rather than ‘patients’ or ‘subjects’). On this last point, the style guide notes: We are all patients at some time in our lives but like us, most people with diabetes do not live in this role for most of their lives. Participant is preferred to reflect the collaborative nature of modern clinical research’. I very much hope, and will advocate, for similar changes to the editorial styles of other prominent diabetes journals. The Diabetes Australia position statement is already given out by many conference organisers in Australia to encourage more person-first and positive language among invited speakers.

Changing the way we #TalkAboutDiabetes

As the UK approaches the end of #DiabetesWeek, the #TalkAboutDiabetes theme appears to have been a huge success (at least on social media). You can follow the #TalkAboutDiabetes and #LanguageMatters hashtags on Twitter to read the reactions and exchanges this week. The publication this week of NHS England’s ‘Language Matters’ guidance for health professionals, spearheaded by Dr Partha Kar (Associate National Clinical Director, Diabetes, NHS England) has been very well received. He has written here about the importance of ‘The Words We Use’. The importance of language to people with diabetes has been highlighted in a series of blogs by JDRF UK.

Credit where its due…

Importantly, the NHS England working group included not only health professionals and researchers but also several people with diabetes. They also worked with many leading UK diabetes charities (e.g. Diabetes UK and JDRF UK) and health professional organisations (e.g. PCDS and ABCD), who each put their names to the document. Notwithstanding the work in both Australia and the US on language, the UK’s recent addition to this cause is truly the most comprehensive national endorsement to date of the importance of language matters in diabetes. While we have many strong individual advocates for Diabetes Australia’s position on language, we have not yet invited the official endorsement of other diabetes organisations and health professional bodies – perhaps this is the challenge for our next iteration of the Diabetes Australia position statement!