Negative community attitudes and stereotypes affect most people who live with diabetes and it has a very real impact on their self-care, physical health, mental health and quality of life.

According to the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD) at Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation, more than 4 in 5 people with diabetes have experienced diabetes stigma at some point in their lives.

Despite nearly two million Australians living with diabetes, it is one of the most misunderstood and stigmatised health conditions in the country. Up to 80 per cent of people with diabetes report feeling blamed or shamed for living with the condition, and more than 25 per cent say other people’s attitudes and stereotypes about diabetes are negatively impacting their mental health. Almost 50 per cent of people with diabetes have experienced a mental health issue relating to diabetes in the past twelve months.

A new survey commissioned by Diabetes Australia also reveals significant community misunderstanding about diabetes, with as many as 85 per cent of people in the community believing people with diabetes shouldn’t eat sugary foods or drinks and only 43 per cent of people understanding that not all people with diabetes are overweight.

Experts believe community misunderstandings of diabetes are driving a common misconception that diabetes is simply a lifestyle condition caused by being overweight. In reality, there are many different types of diabetes. It is a complex set of conditions, with many different risk factors including genetics and family history, age, physical inactivity, other medical conditions, and medications used, and other factors influencing a person risk of developing diabetes.

ACBRD Foundation Director Professor Jane Speight said diabetes stigma has major implications for how people manage their condition.

“Diabetes is not a joke, and stigma is more than just hurtful words and actions. It can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, mental and social well-being. It can cause people to delay or skip medications, which can increase their risk of serious diabetes-related complications.

“It also affects their willingness to seek help and support from others, including from health professionals,” she said.

Research from ACBRD has found:

  • 52% of people with type 2 diabetes say people assume they are overweight or have been in the past 37% of people with type 2 diabetes say people judge them for their food choices
  • 26% of people with type 2 diabetes have been told they brought it on themselves
  • 67% of people with type 1 diabetes say they are judged if they eat sugary foods or drinks
  • 55% say some people assume it is their fault that they have type 1 diabetes
  • 31% don’t tell other people they have type 1 diabetes, to avoid negative reactions

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said more than 450,000 Australians with diabetes need to use insulin every day to stay healthy yet many are being shamed for using insulin or checking their glucose levels in public.

“This year we are asking people in the community to ask themselves – ‘Would you mind’ if you were blamed, shamed or judged for having a serious health condition that anyone could develop?,” he said.

“Nobody chooses to get diabetes – no matter what type of diabetes they have. Diabetes is a complex range of conditions with many different types and stages and while diet and being overweight is a contributing factor for many people with type 2 diabetes, there are many other contributing risk factors for diabetes that needed to be understood.

“Nobody should be blamed or shamed about having diabetes.”

To highlight the issue, Diabetes Australia has launched an advertising campaign as part of National Diabetes Week, calling for an end to diabetes blame and shame, while Diabetes Victoria’s new awareness campaign encourages people to ‘Think again. Let’s reduce diabetes stigma’.  

  • Listen to ACBRD’s Professor Jane Speight and Michael Taylor, who lives with type 1 diabetes, in a special National Diabetes Week episode of Diabetes Victoria’s Living Well with Diabetes podcast.

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Heads up on diabetes and stigma: nobody chooses diabetes: Diabetes Australia ‘Heads Up on Diabetes & Stigma’ report, developed in partnership with the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes.

The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes blogs