Strangely, the best conversation I had this week was tonight, after Easter dinner. While at a small family gathering we got into a brief discussion about type 2 diabetes and its causes, and I quickly discovered that misinformation exists, even among family.
An immediately family member on my husband's side has recently (a few months ago) been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. After a few months of paying attention to diet and limiting high sugar/high fat foods, he has lost weight and reduced his need for oral medication by 25%. He is doing fabulously, and has adapted very well. Yet he was telling me how a nurse at the diabetes clinic had recently informed him that even if he loses more weight, eliminates his need for oral diabetes medication, and stabilizes his blood sugar, that his type 2 diabetes will never go away. The symptoms may disappear, but he will ALWAYS have type 2 diabetes. FYI - This was a direct contradiction of what he had been told at diagnosis, so thanks to that diabetes educator/nurse for setting the record straight.
He then went on to say how there have been numerous cases of type 2 diabetes in my husband's family, both on his maternal and paternal sides, thus greatly increasing the risk to other family members. At this point, a third person joined the conversation, casually inquiring about his personal risk. I explained that there are a number of factors that lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, particularly genetics, obesity, age, and race, and that his particular risk would be considered low because he is not overweight, exercises regularly, and is relatively young. Yet, he is hispanic (the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is 15% in people of hispanic descent, as opposed to 6% in individuals of caucasian descent) and carries a genetic disposition to the disease. I then said that the best way to reduce his risk is to continue to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body weight, particularly as he gets older. But, I said, there are no guarantees. Genetics dictate that even with the best prevention, he may still develop type 2 diabetes at some point in the future.
At this point, the conversation shifted as two other family members jumped in and contradicted what we had been discussing, stating that as long as he exercised regularly, there was no chance he would EVER develop type 2 diabetes; that type 2 diabetes is caused by poor diet and a lack of exercise.
Whoa whoa whoa, hold on a minute, are you effing kidding me? My own family? Tell me it isn't so...
I certainly do not claim to be any kind of medical professional or diabetes "expert," but with a son who has had type 1 diabetes for over 6 years, I've read a ton of diabetes literature, attended dozens of conferences and research symposiums, and have tried my absolute best to educate my family and friends about diabetes. And part of that education has been with a focus on eliminating myths and the spread of misinformation. If ANYONE in my family still believes that diabetes, be it type 1 or type 2, is caused entirely by lifestyle factors, I have clearly failed in my efforts to educate.