Of the 290,000 New Zealanders living with diabetes, nearly half of those have stopped talking to family, friends, and health professionals about their condition due to a fear of judgement.

Dr Bryan Betty from the Royal College of GPs said that statistic is concerning, and there needs to be a lot more focus on diabetes in New Zealand.

"Diabetes, I believe, is the biggest medical issue we face in this country, it costs the health system over $2 billion a year, which will rise to $3 billion by 2030. It is a major driver of heart disease, kidney disease and eye disease, and it is an issue that doesn't have enough focus in this country," he said.

When she was eight years old, Beatrice Pearce was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

"Type 1 diabetes is when your pancreas doesn't work like a normal person's pancreas does, and so I inject insulin which helps break down the sugar," she said.

When he was 46, Barry Tikena was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes causes the body to become resistant to insulin and makes blood sugars harder to control. Tikena's condition required a lot of lifestyle changes, and now he's prediabetic.

"It was hard, I mean to go from having hāngīs and boil ups and things like that, to going to having salads and limiting your meals," he said.

Pearce and Tikena both said they've experienced stigma around their diabetes.

"If you're having to constantly take time out of school to inject yourself, or check on your blood sugars, or you're eating mentos for example at 10am, you know people are going to look at you differently," Pearce said.

Diabetes New Zealand chief executive Heather Verry said there needs to be more education on diabetes in Aotearoa.

"People really don't understand the consequences of getting diabetes in the first place, and as I said, they don't understand the difference between type one and type two."

"Everyone knows someone living with diabetes, so we can all play our part in ensuring we have a positive impact on their lives. This can be as simple as choosing the words we use wisely when talking to our friends, whānau, colleagues, students and acquaintances with diabetes about their condition."

Diabetes New Zealand is calling on New Zealanders to be mindful of the language they use when speaking to people living with diabetes and while it currently affects more than 290,000 Kiwis, that number that is projected to increase to between 390,000 and 430,000 by 2040.

"What we say can have a direct effect on whether someone feels like a failure, as opposed to being empowered to look after themselves and manage their diabetes – 90% of the time, people with diabetes self-manage their condition and when they are made to feel bad it has a direct impact on their health. Language does matter," Verry said.

Fifty-seven of survey respondents said the language people use when talking to them about diabetes has a negative impact on them, making them feel, for example, judged, excluded, misunderstood or guilty.

"The things that cause the most offence is a lack of understanding, judgement around diet and confusion between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, according to the survey results. Ironically, the worst 'offenders' were equally divided between people closest to those with diabetes (friends and family) and complete strangers."
© TVNZ 2022


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