Fight the Stigma: How to Respond When People Are Ignorant About Diabetes


Every type of diabetes is hard. Trying to think like a pancreas, calculating the more than forty different things that have an impact on blood sugar, constantly feeling the burden of educating people who just don’t understand—it’s a lot!

What makes it harder? When people’s comments get a bit out of line, either out of truly not understanding or because they think it’s funny or not a big deal. In those situations, it’s not your responsibility to right every wrong comment, but here are some ideas for how you can respond.

Them: “Do you have the bad kind of diabetes?”
All kinds of diabetes are hard. Here’s how my personal experience has been…”

Them: “Sure, sure, but if they stopped eating so much sugar, their diabetes would go away.”
You: “It’s not that simple. Type 2 is a complex metabolic disease, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, and there are other types too. Lifestyle factors can influence some things, but genetics, environment and access to strong healthcare all matter.”

Them: “But you don’t LOOK like you have diabetes!”
You: “That’s just because you don’t know what people with diabetes look like—we’re all ages, sizes, genders, ethnicities, races. Every type of diabetes can impact anyone.”

Them: “You can’t eat that!”
You: “I can eat anything the same way you can. Just like all humans, a healthy and balanced way of eating is a good approach, but just like you—if I want a cookie, I can eat it. I just have to make sure I know the carb count and give myself medicine for it.”

Them: “Diabetes doesn’t run in their family, no one runs in their family LOL”
You: “That’s actually super ignorant and I’m frustrated you said that. Diabetes is so complex and is never anyone’s fault. Type 2 is a complex metabolic disease, type 1 is an autoimmune disease and there are other types too. Lifestyle factors can influence some things, but genetics, environment and access to strong healthcare all matter.”

Them: “Oh you have diabetes? My grandfather lost his foot because of diabetes.”
You: “Wow, that must have been incredibly scary and sad for your family. I am sorry he had to go through that. But sharing those scary stories with me—since I live with diabetes every day and keeping myself healthy is a really complex task—isn’t super helpful for my mental health.”

Them: “Only fat people get diabetes!”
You: “Any type of diabetes can happen at any time, to anyone. Autoimmune forms of the disease happen due to a combination of genetics and environmental triggers. Metabolic forms of the disease are due to a wide variety of factors. Plenty of people with diabetes are at a healthy weight for them, and if being overweight always caused diabetes then everyone who is overweight would have diabetes, but they don’t. It just shows us how little we still understand about why diabetes happens.”

Them: “I bet you regret all that candy you ate as a kid.”
You: “Especially considering that has nothing to do with any kind of diabetes at all, I enjoyed every bit!”

Them: “Oh yeah my grandma has that, she doesn’t really take care of it though.”
You: “I’m sorry to hear that she isn’t taking care of herself. If she needs a support system or a community to talk to, she should check out Beyond Type 1 and Beyond Type 2—they offer tons of resources on all kinds of diabetes, plus they host community events so she could meet other people dealing with the same thing.”

That shady Instagram account: “We’ll show you how to reverse diabetes now!”
You: “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”
You, if you’re feeling SUPER patient: “You can’t actually reverse any kind of diabetes. Autoimmune versions of the disease like type 1 and latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) are for life, and type 2 can go into remission under certain circumstances but can’t be reversed.”

WRITTEN BY Lala Jackson, POSTED 11/17/21, UPDATED 10/11/22

Lala is a communications strategist who has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1997. She worked across med-tech, business incubation, library tech and wellness before landing in the type 1 diabetes (T1D) non-profit space in 2016. A bit of a nomad, she grew up primarily bouncing between Hawaii and Washington state and graduated from the University of Miami. You can usually find her reading, preferably on a beach.