Brits living with diabetes feel stigma and bias impact their ability to manage their condition

By Editor
25th January 2023

A first-of-its-kind survey has identified a clear disconnect between the perceptions of the British public and those living with diabetes when it comes to stigma surrounding the condition.

Conducted by Abbott, the survey of 1,500 people shows the UK population has a good understanding of the impact of managing the condition, accurately associating diabetes with “insulin” (76 per cent), and “testing sugar levels” (40 per cent).

However, 80 per cent of the general public claim to have never witnessed diabetes stigma, despite almost the same proportion of the diabetes community (73 per cent) having seen stigmatising behaviour towards the condition, particularly on social media, TV and online.

The disconnect between the stigma experienced by people with diabetes and the general public’s lack of awareness of it, suggests widespread unconscious bias towards those with diabetes, which can lead to negative effects on emotional wellbeing and health outcomes.

Roughly one in four (24 per cent) people with diabetes surveyed agree that others’ opinions have affected their ability to manage their condition.

Stigma is created by a lack of knowledge and a fear of the unknown. When people see something, they don’t understand or perceive as scary, they can react negatively.

For people with diabetes this can play out in many ways such as food judgement, social or workplace exclusion, or inadvertently making hurtful comments. Something as simple as ‘should you be eating that?’ can lead to feelings of blame and judgement.

Professor Deborah Christie, consultant clinical psychologist and clinical lead for paediatric and adolescent psychological services at University College London Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust said, “Abbott has uncovered important findings about the role that unconscious bias plays in diabetes stigma and the negative impact that this can have.

“Stigma experienced by people with diabetes is one of the largest barriers to them engaging with care and treatment.”

She added: “If you feel blamed or judged in any part of your life, then it can have a significant effect on your emotional wellbeing, and you will be less likely to engage with that area.”

Abbott’s survey highlights further insights for those living with diabetes, including:

  • More than one in five people (21 per cent) with diabetes are left feeling self-conscious about their condition, with a third (31 per cent) believing that the way the public speaks about diabetes also has a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing.
  • Almost everyone with diabetes surveyed, whether they have type1 or type2, believes people assume they are overweight (96 per cent); and that their condition was caused by their lifestyle (64 per cent) and lack of exercise (49 per cent).
  • Almost four in five members of the public (78 per cent) associate lack of exercise with type 2 diabetes. While at surface level this may be accurate, as certain lifestyle factors are known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, the causes for every person are different and complex.
  • Almost a third (29 per cent) of the British public inaccurately believe that people with diabetes should only consume low sugar meals, whilst 76 per cent believe people with type 2 diabetes should give up sugar altogether. This misunderstanding regarding sugar consumption may fuel the unconscious bias behind the stigma and blame felt by those living with diabetes.

Abbott has launched a new campaign in the UK, Let’s Change Perspective, to explore the impact of unconscious bias and to help change the conversation around diabetes.

This includes a new tool, the Let’s Change Perspective Guide, developed in partnership with people with diabetes and Professor Christie, with input and guidance from Diabetes UK.

The tool aims to empower everyone to challenge diabetes stigma in the moment in various situations such as in work or hearing a joke or hurtful comment about diabetes. Allyship is key in helping to reduce stigma and improve the lives of people with diabetes.

Douglas Twenefour, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said: “We welcome the Let’s Change Perspective campaign and guide as, together, they help demonstrate the importance of working collaboratively to address the stigma that affects people with diabetes.

“It’s incredibly important that people with diabetes are supported and empowered to live their lives and manage their condition as best they can, free from stigma.”

Professor Christie adds: “It is critical that the diabetes community and general public can come together with compassion and utilise tools, such as the Let’s Change Perspective Guide, to challenge bias and start to change the conversation.”

Despite the public’s misconceptions of diabetes, the survey also found positive signals for improvement as the public recognise the impact of stigma, with approximately half (47 per cent) agreeing that the language used to speak about diabetes reinforces stigma and three quarters (75% per cent) agreeing more education is needed to understand more about the condition.

Neil Harris, general manager of Abbott’s diabetes care business in the UK and Ireland, commented: “We want all people with diabetes to feel confident to care for themselves and to seek the right support for themselves and their condition.

“If we all took the time to understand diabetes a little better, and challenge the stereotypes that inadvertently cause harm, we can make a big difference to the lives of people living with this complex condition.”

Through the Let’s Change Perspective campaign, Abbott will continue to work with the diabetes community to raise awareness of the impact of diabetes stigma and provide helpful solutions to reduce unconscious bias and support people with diabetes.

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