Wednesday 28 September 2011

"Mom, What's Wrong With Having Diabetes?"

Watching "Biggest Loser" is a longstanding Tuesday night tradition in our household. My husband and I have faithfully watched the show since its early days with Bob Harper and & Jillian Michaels, through Jillian's departure after Season 2, her return for Seasons 4 to 11 (and corresponding rise to "fitness diva" as I like to think of her), and her departure again at the end of Season 11, to the current Season 12 with new celebrity trainers. It is a weekly family event in our house; sometimes our kids watch the first hour with us and then my hubby and I watch the second hour after putting the kids in bed. Other times we tape the entire 2 hour episode and watch it later in the week. The kids love to witness the contestants' extreme transformations and I love the healthy lifestyle message promoted by the show and its trainers.

With each new season we watch the new contestants face the grueling workouts, the dramatic weigh-ins, and the before and after health evaluations. Early in each season, all of the contestants undergo a full medical exam by "Biggest Loser" doctors, and some of the findings are shared on the show. Most, if not all, of the men and women are told that they have some kind of health condition as a result of their weight; for some its high blood pressure, for some its early signs of heart disease, for some its asthma. There is usually at least one contestant who is told they have diabetes (or that they show early signs of diabetes and will develop the disease unless they make some major changes to their diet and lifestyle).

Don't get me wrong, I love the show and I have the utmost respect for the colossal challenge that its producers and trainers have taken on. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in North America and if a big television network show with celebrity trainers and Cinderella-style weight loss stories can motivate people to make positive changes in their lives, then power to them! After all, every little bit helps, right?

Where I do take offense is when the show promotes incorrect and/or insufficient messages about diabetes. At least two contestants in this week's episode were informed by "Dr. H" that they had diabetes. There was no mention of what kind of diabetes, not even a brief explanation of what diabetes is. The doctor presented the information to the contestants as if it was a death sentence and with each diagnosis the receiving contestant began to cry. My son, upon watching the scene, asked, "Mom, what's wrong with having diabetes?" My heart broke at his question and my eyes welled with tears. Yes, diabetes is a scary, unpredictable, life-threatening disease. But there is nothing "wrong" with it, and there is nothing "wrong" with someone who has it. It is a manageable disease that does not prevent a person from doing anything. Furthermore, my type 1 diabetic son (as with all type 1's and many type 2's) does not have diabetes because of obesity, lack of exercise, or poor lifestyle choices, and there is nothing he, or I, can do to change it. And I know that Dr. H is referring to type 2 diabetes, just as I'm sure he knows he is referring to type 2 diabetes, so WHY CAN'T HE SAY THAT? Why promote ignorance when this show has the ability and the reach to educate millions of viewers? This is a great teachable moment that "Biggest Loser" has simply let go to waste.

Okay, end of rant for today.

For full info about the show, visit their website.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, what you saw on tv is what most of us Type 2 Diabetics get: fear mongering, left out in the dark and on our own, no explanations of what's going on, and guilt tripping... and yes, many of us Type 2 also did NOT get our disease due to outright lifestyle choices, but because of other diseases that riddled us with insulin resistance at a very tender age, when we were pretty skinny, and athletic, or active. Many of us got it because of medications for other conditions, and now, new research has attributed type 2 diabetes risk from pollution and pesticides used in our crops. Agent Orange is just one example. I can't watch Biggest Loser because obesity is a very complicated situation for most people -- it's not just a simple case of overeating, but may have hormonal, genetic, and even deep emotional roots to it. I despise how some of these contestants are treated, sometimes, abused, or put down... That's how we are treated in the real world... by the community, by medical professionals who just... don't want to learn about diabetes, and don't want to help us... and by Type 1 Diabetics, angry because they believe most of the misconceptions... that obesity itself leads to Type 2, or that we're all fat and lazy, etc. I got verbally abused last night by 2 Type 1s... just for being a Type 2, and wanting a cure for my type. With Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome at the age of 6 yrs old, there was NOTHING I could've done to prevent anything... I am sorry for how horrible the media is... and as a result, how people end up treating one another.