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Diabetes Knowledge

The Importance of the Language Used When Talking About Diabetes

2/1/2022 by mySugr

The Importance of the Language Used When Talking About Diabetes

If you’re living with diabetes, you’re likely familiar with some of the negative language and messages surrounding diabetes. As you know, many stigmas come with diabetes, but it shouldn’t be that way.

Words are powerful, and they can positively or negatively frame how individuals feel or think about things. For that reason, it’s important that we begin shifting the language used when talking about diabetes to make it inclusive, respectful, and free from stigma.

Why Language Surrounding Diabetes is So Important

Language matters. The words chosen and how they’re used have the potential to persuade and influence the way others see the world. In fact, they have the potential to create reality. With words, it’s possible to express bias, whether it’s unconscious or conscious. And the words used can make people feel supported and valued or excluded and stigmatized.

The way we communicate about diabetes has consequence, and there’s plenty of evidence that shows that the language used when talking about diabetes is often problematic.

  • The media uses diabetes language that’s often stigmatizing[i].
  • Language used when talking about diabetes is often intimidating, confusing, inaccurate, harmful, and frustrating.[ii]
  • The language used when talking about diabetes at diagnosis has a significant and lasting impact on the person diagnosed with diabetes.[iii]
  • Language used to talk about diabetes affects the emotional well-being of people living with diabetes.[iv]
  • Diabetes language has been found to affect blood sugar levels of persons with diabetes.[v]
  • Incorrect language used to speak of diabetes may isolate or alienate people living with diabetes.[vi]

Tip to Remember When Talking About Diabetes

Some tips to keep in mind when talking about diabetes include:

  • Remember that language has significant power and can have either positive or negative effects.
  • Use language free from negative connotations and judgement.
  • Keep language person-centered and avoid labels.
  • Recognize that there are descriptions, phrases, and words that may be problematic, no matter the intention of the speaker.
  • Avoid words that infer prejudice, generalizations, or stereotypes.
  • Avoid language that puts blame on someone for the development of diabetes or its complications.

Changing the Way We Talk About Diabetes

Whether you’re a medical professional, someone who has diabetes, or a friend or family member of someone who has diabetes, it’s important that we all learn to change the way we talk about diabetes. Here are some ways we can get started.

 

Instead of: Diabetic vs. non-diabetic

Use: Person with diabetes / Person living with diabetes

Why? Language should be person-first. People don’t want to be defined by their diabetes.

 

Instead of: Controlling diabetes

Use: Managing diabetes

Why? The idea of control makes it seem like diabetes can be controlled, putting blame and shame on a person with diabetes.

 

Instead of: Good vs. bad blood sugar

Use: In range, low, high blood sugar

Why? Labeling blood sugar levels as good or bad can lead to negativity and guilt. Some people living with diabetes may feel like having a “bad” blood sugar means they are bad.

 

Instead of: Testing blood sugar

Use: Checking blood sugar

Why? We are not in school! Testing implies good or bad results. Blood sugar values are not good or bad. They are information. 

 

Of course, these are only a few examples of how we can begin changing the language surrounding diabetes. Seek to use language that’s empathetic, encouraging, understanding, and respectful instead of shaming, disapproving, or stigmatizing.

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Sources

[i] https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/bmjopen/3/11/e003384.full.pdf

[ii] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0145721710378539

[iii] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-5491.2007.02129.x

[iv] https://www.doi.org/2-s2.0-85074795515

[v] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pedi.12646

[vi] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0576

https://www.diabeteseducator.org/practice/practice-tools/app-resources/diabetes-language-paper

https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/40/12/1790

https://www.diabeteseducator.org/docs/default-source/practice/educator-tools/HCP-diabetes-language-guidance.pdf?sfvrsn=22

https://beyondtype1.org/lets-talk-type-1-language-and-diabetes/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168822721000085

https://www.umassmed.edu/dcoe/news--events/umass-diabetes-news/2018/July/language-in-diabetes/

https://www.diabetes.org.uk/resources-s3/2018-09/language-matters_language%20and%20diabetes.pdf

https://curatio.me/why-is-the-language-we-use-around-diabetes-so-important/

The mySugr website does not provide medical or legal advice. mySugr blog articles are not scientific articles, but intended for informational purposes only.

Medical or nutritional information on the mySugr website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult a physician or health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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