Staying alive with type 1 diabetes means a daily regime of multiple insulin injections or being hooked up to an insulin pump. Without the constant monitoring of blood glucose levels, a person with type 1 can fall into life-threatening hypoglycemia – or hypos.
It is a demanding condition that can hit anyone at any age, and yet it is surrounded by myths and misunderstandings.
So it is hardly surprising that Food Standards Scotland’s latest advertisement has caused such controversy.
In its video it depicts a mother feeding her young daughter chocolate. The daughter states that being overweight when older will make her “more likely to get diabetes”. Her mother is shown as wilfully ignoring the warning.
This message about “diabetes”, diet and lax parenting is significantly flawed.
There are different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, which accounts for the majority of children with diabetes and about ten per cent of all people with diabetes, is not linked to lifestyle factors. It is an autoimmune condition (like Crohn’s and MS) and there is nothing the 28,500 people living with type 1 diabetes in Scotland, or their parents, could have done to avoid it.
But there is hope. Hope because the prospect of a cure is getting ever closer. With a world-class research community here in Scotland, there is also every opportunity to accelerate progress. And once we have solved the mysteries of type 1, the keys will also be available to unlock other autoimmune conditions.
So while Food Standards Scotland has a vital public service to perform in disseminating healthy eating messaging, the lack of clarity that is perpetuated in this advertisement is hugely disappointing. Not only does it cause distress to those with type 1, but also leads to challenges in broader awareness as we work to boost fundraising and progress towards a cure.
On Thursday JDRF along with a number of families affected by type 1 will be meeting MSPs at the Scottish Parliament. Our challenge to them is to help us break down the barriers caused by misunderstanding and to join us in the search for the cure.
Peter Jones is Chairman of JDRF Scotland Development Group