How do people with lived experiences of diabetes see themselves in the media?

The World Health Organization (WHO) surveyed over 900 people to answer this important question

By Dr Roslyn Le Gautier

The WHO has been criticised for how it portrays diabetes. On more than one occasion, the WHO presented diabetes as simply a condition of “poor lifestyle choices”.

So, the WHO surveyed over 900 people affected by diabetes to learn how to improve their media messaging. The survey asked how people with diabetes are portrayed in the media, how they would prefer to be portrayed, and the values the WHO needs to reflect in its messaging about diabetes.

This is what the people who took part in the study said:

      • The media needs to do a better job of separating the different types of diabetes. For example, people with type 1 diabetes often feel judged and blamed for having a condition that other people think can be prevented. However, when trying clarify that type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, some stigmatise those with type 2 diabetes.
      • Stigma is a concern for most. Some feel the media spreads the belief that diabetes only happens to ‘lazy’ and ‘overweight’ people. This leads many to feel shamed and judged for their food choices and habits. Some people do not disclose their condition to family or friends because the fear of stigma is so high.
      • The way the media portrays diabetes is too simple. It doesn’t explain the daily struggles. It doesn’t explain the ‘24/7’ attention needed to manage diabetes well. There are so many factors that can affect daily life with diabetes. The emotional aspects of living with diabetes are mostly ignored.
      • The cost of living with diabetes is hardly ever mentioned. The stress of not being able to afford insulin, technology or supplies for diabetes care has a real impact on emotional and mental health. 
      • It is important that messages are accurate and supportive. The media needs to use language that reflects positive values, prevents suffering and takes a human-rights approach.

This study shows that people living with diabetes have strong views on how the media portrays them. They offer recommendations for how to improve media messaging. Their view is that this will create a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of diabetes, to reduce stigma and promote empathy.

If this topic interests you, we have other blogs on the importance of language in diabetes.


Reference: Hunt D, Lamb K, Elliott J, et al. A WHO key informant language survey of people with lived experiences of diabetes: Media misconceptions, values-based messaging, stigma, framings and communications considerationsDiabetes Res Clin Pract. 2022;193:110109. doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2022.110109

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