A picture of a group of friends holding some variation of deep fried food on a stick is posted to Instagram. The caption reads, “I went to the state fair and came home with diabetes.” A picture of a dessert is posted with the caption: “This brownie looks like diabetes.” Even a simple Google search tells you everything you need to know about how society views Type 1 diabetes; the phrase “funny jokes about diabetes” is more frequently searched than “mean jokes about diabetes.”
Society often decides to pick and choose which topics it finds offensive. A joke about childhood cancer would be considered awful, offensive, and overall unacceptable to society, as it should be. After all, why would someone make a joke about a terminal illness that affects millions of people? Sadly, it isn’t always that simple.
Jokes, often stating or implying that diabetics are lazy, unhealthy, overweight, or somehow committed actions that caused their disease are told heard frequently. These jokes have created a stigma around diabetes and led to many people becoming falsely informed about the disease.
Jokes can be found easily on social media. People often post without thinking about content that could be offensive. Sometimes, people don’t even realize that what they’re saying is offensive and unacceptable because jokes like these have been so normalized in society.
Growing up with a sister who has Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), I have had a full understanding and awareness of these jokes for almost as long as I can remember. When discussing this topic with my sister, she revealed that she hears these jokes “on a weekly basis.” When I asked her how often people stand up for her and other diabetics when these jokes are made she said, “People know what it is, but choose to not recognize the jokes as offensive. People would rather use the illness as a joke than recognize the seriousness of it.”
Many people who joke about T1D do not have intentions to be offensive or hurtful. They see and hear jokes about diabetes on a regular basis, so they do not think about the true meaning of their words. Advertising and the media play a role in these jokes as well, because when major corporations, such as CrossFit, post jokes about diabetes, people see it as acceptable.
CrossFit frequently posts and tweets memes and images that mock diabetes. The most well known of these tweets are images where CrossFit photoshops the word “diabetes” into Coca Cola logos, implying that diabetes is caused by a poor diet. The images that CrossFit posts are designed to mock and falsely educate the public about diabetes. CrossFit is trying to minimize an illness that kills millions of people, and the most alarming part is that CrossFit is not alone in this. They are part of a large group who continue to make statements that decrease the amount of support and recognition type 1 diabetics get when fighting their illness.
— CrossFit (@CrossFit) June 29, 2015
Why Society Considers These Jokes Acceptable
There is little to no backfire when offensive jokes about T1D are made. Society refuses to recognize the seriousness of T1D, so it continues to mock and belittle it. The reason for this is ignorance. When an anonymous student was asked about their thoughts on jokes about T1D they said, “People are insensitive to it because they are not educated enough about it.”
The Reality of T1D
According to an article published by JDRF, 1.25 million Americans live with T1D, and an estimated 200,000 of them are children. T1D is a chronic, terminal illness and there is currently no cure. T1D is NOT caused by diet, exercise, or other lifestyle choices. Treatment for T1D is involves constant monitoring, is painful, and has a high degree of risk and uncertainty.
Type 1 diabetics are constantly treating hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. Episodes of hypoglycemia will cause fainting, shakiness, extreme hunger, excessive sweating, and other symptoms. Severe episodes will cause unconsciousness and seizures. Episodes of hyperglycemia will cause extreme thirst, blurred vision, headache, and other symptoms. Severe episodes of hyperglycemia will cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, coma, and diabetic ketoacidosis(DKA). DKA is a serious and common risk all diabetes face. In fact, according to a 2015 article by the Mayo Clinic, 200,000 people are diagnosed and treated for DKA each year. When untreated, DKA can quickly lead to death.
Type 1 diabetes also has many long term risks and complications. T1D can cause diabetic retinopathy, which has no cure and can lead to blindness. Type 1 diabetics are at a high risk for neuropathy. According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic in 2015, Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage most commonly found in the hands and feet. This nerve damage can cause severe pain, loss of limbs, and even death. T1D also increases the chance of heart problems. According to a 2014 article by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a diabetic is twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke as a non-diabetic. Other complications of T1D include kidney disease, hearing impairment, skin conditions, and increased risk of complications during pregnancy.
T1D affects every all aspects of life. People with T1D live a very different lifestyle from people who do not have T1D. Most people who have T1D test their blood sugar 10-12 times per day, sometimes more, and 2 of these tests occur during the middle of the night.
The Bigger Issue
So why does society view it as acceptable to joke about type 1 diabetes? Usually these jokes a result of some form of unawareness or lack of education about type 1 diabetes. People don’t understand that what they’re saying is offensive or ignorant.
Most jokes about diabetes are built around the idea that a person becomes diabetic due to poor lifestyle choices, which is incorrect. However, many people are falsely educated so they continue to make jokes involving that idea. Others are unaware of the severity of the illness, so they don’t realize just how offensive their statements are.
When people say, “I went to the state fair and came home with diabetes” they don’t realize if they really came home with diabetes their life would change entirely. The cause of these offensive jokes is unawareness and a lack of education, which reveals a much bigger issue; that people don’t know enough about type 1 diabetes.
The lack of education of diabetes results in more than just jokes. The way T1D is presented in the media and in everyday life is limiting the amount of money and support that can be raised for T1D. People who are falsely educated about T1D are unlikely to be strong supporters of efforts to reach a cure, lessen long-term complications, and raise awareness of T1D.
When people don’t understand the severity of a disease, they are less inclined to support a cure. If more people were educated and aware of T1D, reaching a cure would be much easier and would come much faster, saving the lives of millions of people.
Jokes about diabetes are acceptable to society now, but if awareness and education about the disease increased, offensive statements would decrease and a cure for the T1D could be closer than ever.
Featured image by the author