Thursday, October 23, 2014

Type Two Diabetes: The Media, The Myth, The Shame and Blame (on CBC)

I don't have type two diabetes. But people I love do.

Our national news, published this article about type two diabetes.

Go ahead, read it.

Back now? Are you as frustrated as I am?


First thing is first, this is about an aboriginal community/reserve just minutes from my hometown. This article hit me hard, because it is a community I am familiar with. It has its struggles, like most aboriginal communities in Canada it battles with so much. Health is one of these many battles and Eskasoni is not left out.

Graph from The Office of the Auditor General of Canada

This article is borderline libellous towards type two diabetes.

Let's go paragraph by paragraph:

"The Cape Breton District Health Authority, which includes Eskasoni, has the highest rate of diabetes in the province according to a 2011 report released by the Diabetes Care Program of Nova Scotia."

That was 2011. I don't doubt that it has the highest rate of type two diabetes (type one actually has a very different demographic and doesn't necessarily settle in Eskasoni-there are much denser pockets on the southern parts of NS) But come on. It is 2014, are there actually NO other stats on the instance rate of type two diabetes in Cape Breton since 2011? If there isn't then what spurred this story? Why now? Why have we waited THREE years for this story? 

"The prevalence of crude diabetes in that health authority is 12.3 per cent of the population over the age of 20. That rate has been steadily increasing since 2004."

CRUDE diabetes? What the what is crude diabetes? I have been a passionate and dedicated advocate for diabetes awareness, mental health and diabetes and I have NEVER seen this. To the Google machine. Nope. Nothing. The only thing that came up when I searched for crude diabetes is...this article. I am really not sure what the author meant by crude diabetes. Crude by definition is natural, unfiltered, unprocessed. So maybe they were referring to untreated diabetes? Undiagnosed? Could they have a stat for undiagnosed?

But yes, 12.3 per cent is incredibly high. There are a number of reasons for the prevalence of Type Two diabetes in aboriginal communities. It is a massive growing concern, and it's not just because of diet. There was a $58m investment made by the Canadian Government in 1999 to study the increasing prevalence of Type Two Diabetes in aboriginal peoples. Part of the findings included the rapid decline in the population partaking in a traditional lifestyle and eating traditional foods. The thing about removing an entire population of people from being able to maintain the lifestyle their ancestors have followed for thousands and thousands of years (that's right, Columbus didn't "discover" us) is that it becomes a shock to the system throughout the evolution of the human body. Our bodies (and by "our" I mean most white, European descent folks) adapted over a longer period of time allowing our biology to catch up to the shit we put in to our bodies and do to them. 

Sorry, CBC! Genetics plays a HUGE role in the development of Type Two Diabetes. That's a main focus in the National Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative studies. The rate of obesity in Texas is extremely high (30.9 per cent), yet the state has less than 10 per cent type two and type one diabetes rates combined. Since nobody thought to break it down, and since I have somewhat inside knowledge of prevalence, I am going to guess the stat of 12.3 per cent of people with diabetes means type two-not type one and two combined. 

Seems like a small detail that was over-looked until we get to the meat of the article.

"Helen Sylliboy, who is one of thousands of Cape Bretoners living with diabetes, finds it harder to get around her kitchen these days. Diabetes has blinded her in one eye and damaged her kidneys, and her severe arthritis keeps her in a wheelchair.  "It makes me sometimes feel sorry for myself and cry because I know I could have avoided it if I just took care of myself," she said. "If I had just eaten right, lost the weight and exercised." Sylliboy goes for dialysis treatment three days a week. She said it makes her angry to see so many people in the community ignore their health and develop diabetes. "I'd like to smack em' one. The diet nowadays is pizza, pop, chips, that's garbage. You're just filling up your gas tank for a short trip down the road to kidney failure and diabetes," she said."
My heart bleeds for Ms. Silliboy here. The self-blame she is feeling is astonishing. Even more so the glorification the CBC is doing of the self-blame. If I could talk to Ms. Silliboy, if Dr Mike Vallis could talk to Ms. Silliboy and help her. Someone PLEASE help her.
Ms. Silliboy: This isn't your fault. It's in your genes. While taking care of yourself is vital to living well with diabetes, it doesn't mean that you are guaranteed a life free of complications. You don't deserve the hardships you have received, you don't deserve the comments that you receive about your life and your health. You don't deserve the mental abuse you are doing to yourself. You can't help it. This is what is taught to you in the clinics, in the news paper, online and through the media. You have been told again and again that it is your fault. Ms. Silliboy, it isn't your fault. It doesn't matter who's fault it is. You're not alone, you're not to blame. Give yourself a break, you deserve it. 
If you happen to be reading this, please go to and see for yourself. 
"Sylliboy wants people to start eating better and getting exercise so they won't end up like her."

First of all, this is no guarantee. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the world who are young, fit, athletic and living with type two diabetes. The research is happening to figure out why, I don't have an answer. I wish I did. I wish THEY did. I wish that there were more news centres running the articles about that research. Joslin Diabetes Center in Massachusetts is one area researching this.

There are millions of people in  the world who are obese, eat pizza pop and chips every day and who do not ever get diagnosed with diabetes.

""Health authorities really need to start to consider how they can support First Nations communities and the provision of more health services within First Nations communities," Rudderham said."
This I can agree with. However, sending a press release and further allowing an article like this to be printed is doing exactly the opposite of helping the problem. The glorification of the myriad of issues Ms. Silliboy is experiencing will not help Ms. Silliboy or her neighbours in Eskasoni. It will not focus resources from our already limited Cape Breton District Health Authority.
Here's the thing. When news articles like this, with this tone get printed it propels the public vision of diabetes being self-inflicted. It gives the public, and therefore our health authorities, the right to blame the patient for what is happening to them, when it very well could be genetics....when it could be anything. When it shouldn't MATTER why someone is diagnosed with type two diabetes, it seems to be the only thing that does matter to the media. Then, in turn, it's the only thing that matters to the public.
When the media publishes this kind of glorification, our charities get a slap in the face. When we call donors for money for research to help fund and fix people like Ms. Silliboy, do you think dollars come our way?
What if a major donor to the Canadian Diabetes Association reads this, sees that it is the patient's fault and pulls their multi million dollar investment in to research because it is seen as a preventable disease? When there is research (that those dollars are being used for) happening right now proving that it isn't always the case.
"She believes the high rate of poverty in the community is forcing people to eat poorly and could be driving up diabetes rates."
I believe the high rate of poverty in the community is limiting access to proper health care (physical and mental), education, and assistance that is much needed. I guess we can kind of agree on this.
The tone of this article is atrocious. The glorification of the despair Ms. Silliboy feels because of self-blame is horrendous. I expect more from our national broadcaster, and our Cape Breton District Health Authority, I truly do.
To the CBC and The Cape Breton District Health Authority:


I want to briefly note that the use of the term first nations and aboriginal peoples has always confused me as to what is correct. To err on the side of following the story I used language from the CBC article


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. You are 100 percent correct, unlike the article. If you haven't already, I want to encourage you to share this with the CBC too. Your voice matters.