COMMENT:

Judgement. It's human nature, to some degree; we judge others all the time, whether we mean to, and whether it's conscious, or not.

Health is an area where we are sometimes quick to judge others, and a good example of this is how people with diabetes are judged. As part of Diabetes Action Month, Diabetes New Zealand has surveyed its members, and found a surprising stigma attached to both common forms — type 1 and type 2 — of diabetes.

The survey found a shocking number of respondents reported that they have been blamed, judged or treated differently because they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

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This manifests in all kinds of ways, from judgement on what people are eating through to exclusion from social events because of their diabetes. A huge 68 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes, for example, said they have been judged for their food choices.

This is hugely unfair and just plain wrong. People with type 1 diabetes have an autoimmune disorder that has absolutely nothing to do with what they eat or do not eat. It can't be reversed or cured, and it has nothing to do with sugar intake. Because many people don't understand that, it's perhaps not surprising that many people with type 1 diabetes said they feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their condition.

The story is similar for people with type 2 diabetes. As well as judgment and different treatment from peers, it's sad to see they also experience this from health professionals. Thirty per cent of people with type 2 diabetes reported that "health professionals think that people with type 2 diabetes don't know how to take care of themselves", and 20 per cent say they have been negatively judged by a health professional. Those numbers shoot up for people under 65.

There's a strong negative stigma around type 2 diabetes being a "lifestyle disease". Seventy-two per cent of people under 65 with type 2 said they feel this, and 39 per cent said they've been told they've brought their diabetes on themselves. Two in three said that because they have type 2 diabetes, some people assume they must be overweight, or have been in the past.

In fact, although weight is one risk factor for type 2 diabetes, there is also a strong genetic component; people of Māori, Pacific or South Asian ancestry have a significantly higher genetic predisposition for type 2 diabetes compared to their fellow Kiwis. People over the age of 40 are also at increased risk, as are women who have had gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Given that diabetes is the largest and fastest growing health issue in New Zealand, with one in every 19 Kiwis diagnosed (and many more unaware they have it) we need to drop the judgment now, and instead have a bit of empathy. This could, after all, happen to us. The more we understand about diabetes, and the more we support others rather than stigmatising them, the healthier we'll all be.

Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide www.healthyfood.co.nz