Imagine for a moment, you and I are at the beach. We go swimming in the ocean. We’re having a great time splashing and laughing. All of a sudden, I scream. We get out of the water and you see red marks on my leg. I’ve been stung by a jellyfish! Quick, what would you do? (Stay with me here… we’ll talk about diabetes and the frappuccino in a moment).
Starbucks released its limited-time only, new Unicorn Frappuccino. Everyone was talking about the pink and blue “magical” drink. Then the diabetes jokes came flooding in.
Suddenly, my social media was covered in “diabetes in a cup” memes.
Among my favorite comments:
The basic diabetes joke…
Let’s add some shock value…
And as if that wasn’t quite serious enough for you…
These “jokes” are funny to many people, because society deems it ok to make fun of diabetes and people with diabetes. After all, they brought it on themselves right? If only they’d put down the donuts and frappuccinos they’d be fine… right?
What the average person thinks about diabetes:
- People with diabetes are overweight and don’t exercise
- People with diabetes are middle aged
- Diabetes is caused by eating a poor diet
- People with diabetes can’t eat sugar or sweets
- Diabetes can be cured by eating better and exercising more
This is what we have been taught. We learn it from TV, the internet, friends, and family. Even as a child, I had many of those ideas in my head. I honestly couldn’t tell you where they came from… but they’re wrong.
Facts about Type 1 diabetes:
- The cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but it is largely believed to be a genetic predisposition that is triggered by a virus or emotional trauma. The onset of type 1 diabetes can be triggered and diagnosed at any age. Adults and children alike are diagnosed with T1D every day.
- Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease. The immune system mistakenly attacked insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The body can no longer produce its own insulin.
- Insulin is necessary for survival. A person with type 1 diabetes has to inject insulin multiple times a day (either via syringe/ pen needle/ or pump) or they will die.
- Type 1 diabetes does not discriminate. People with type 1 diabetes can be any age, size, weight, nationality, or social class.
- Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease. People do not outgrow it and changing their diet or exercise regime will not make it go away… ever.
- People with type 1 diabetes can eat what anyone else eats. The difference is that they have to manually provide their body the insulin to work with the food, rather than having their pancreas do it for them like people without diabetes. Sometimes, they even NEED sugar like juice or candy to treat a low blood sugar. Without this sugar, they could possibly have a seizure or slip into a coma. (This is a diabetic coma… in case you were wondering.)
I know what you’re thinking…
These jokes are obviously not about type ONE diabetes. No one would make fun of a disease that causes little kids to need multiple needles a day just to stay alive. No one is poking fun at a child who was actually in a diabetic coma. (Except maybe the people who said the drink was going to put them in a diabetic coma??)
This is about type TWO diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is ok to make fun of.
And that’s also wrong.
Some facts about type 2 diabetes:
- Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease. For many different reasons, the pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin or the body doesn’t metabolize it correctly to utilize it.
- There is a strong genetic component in type 2 diabetes. You can eat healthy, be a healthy weight, and exercise regularly and still get type 2 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes doesn’t get cured by diet and exercise. The pancreas is still not functioning optimally, but a certain diet and exercise regime can sometimes reduce the stress on the pancreas enough that symptoms subside. Changing that diet or exercise regime at any point will cause increased stress on the pancreas again and symptoms will likely reappear.
Society has taught us…
We have learned that diabetes is a disease that you can prevent and therefore, people who have diabetes brought it on themselves and are fair game to make fun of.
We are told it’s ok to shame people about diabetes and that it’s funny because it’s not a serious disease and if people really wanted, they could reverse their diabetes and be cured.
So, when many people see a diabetes joke, they laugh. And then they share it.
Whether it’s a meme on the internet, a joke on a television show, or a punchline on the radio, these jokes continue to spread misinformation about both diseases.
But, it’s just a joke.
I hear ya. You’re not a doctor. That show isn’t a documentary. That cartoon doesn’t need to be medically accurate. No one is learning from these places. Everyone KNOWS it’s just a joke.
Except they don’t. That’s not how our brains work. We take in information from various sources and our brain files it away somewhere. It doesn’t matter that you saw it on a meme or in a cartoon. If the brain decides it’s believable, it believes it.
Don’t believe me?
Back to the jellyfish sting.
When we were having our hypothetical beach day and I got stung by the jellyfish, what did you do to help me? I bet that at least momentarily, you thought that peeing on the sting would help. Didn’t you?
I have news for you. Not only does urine NOT help a jellyfish sting, but you learned that “fact” from a rather un-scientific place.
Either directly or indirectly, you learned about peeing on a jellyfish sting from… wait for it… Joey Tribbiani (from Friends).
That’s right. The solution to our beach day problem came to you not only from a TV comedy, but from the character who is commonly referred to as the “dumbest” of the group.
And do you know why you believed Joey? Because he mentioned the Discovery channel in his reasoning.
To be clear
I’m not saying the unicorn frappuccino is healthy. I’m not recommending drinking one. There IS a lot of sugar in them (as there is in ANY frappuccino ANYWHERE by the way).
I think people should try to eat healthy. Everything in moderation. Make reasonable food choices. But that’s EVERYONE.
Want to compare the unicorn frappuccino to 3 Snickers bars? Go for it. It’s kind of gross, I agree.
Want to say that much sugar is not healthy, that the number of calories is super high and you’re wasting a quarter or a third of your day’s caloric intake on a drink? Be my guest.
I’m with you. I think it looks gross and it sounds like it would taste gross. I have no intention of trying one and they do have a lot of questionable ingredients in them.
But please, refrain from the diabetes jokes.
All diabetes jokes have an impact
It may get a laugh or two, but much more seriously, it spreads misconceptions about two very serious diseases. It encourages people to disease shame. And whether you’re “just joking” or not… people will learn from your jokes.
So, the next time you want to make a diabetes joke, please don’t.
For the love of God, don’t try peeing on the jellyfish sting!