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Up to 80% of people with diabetes report feeling blamed and shamed for living with the condition, new data released during National Diabetes Week 2021 (11-17 July) has revealed.

Despite almost two million Australians living with diabetes, it remains one of the most misunderstood and stigmatised health conditions in the country.

During National Diabetes Week, experts are warning that widespread community misunderstanding and stigma about the complex condition is driving high rates of mental health problems among sufferers.

A new survey commissioned by Diabetes Australia found that 25% of people with diabetes say other people’s attitudes and stereotypes about the condition is negatively affecting their mental health. Almost half experienced a mental health issue relating to diabetes in the past year.

The survey revealed significant community misunderstandings regarding diabetes.

Up to 80% of people in the community believe people with diabetes shouldn’t eat sugary foods or drinks. Only 43% of people understand that not all people with diabetes are overweight.

Experts point out that there are many different types of diabetes. It is a complex set of conditions, with many different risk factors, including genetics and family history, age, physical inactivity, other medical conditions, and medications used.

As part of National Diabetes Week, Diabetes Australia has launched a new advertising campaign calling for an end to diabetes blame and shame.

Diabetes Australia CEO, Professor Greg Johnson, said people with diabetes are routinely stigmatised about aspects of their lifestyle and diabetes.

“Diabetes has an image problem and a stigma problem,” Professor Johnson said.

“Around 80% of people with diabetes say they’ve been blamed or shamed for having the condition.

“Some common examples include people with diabetes being blamed for causing their diabetes or its complications, and being judged when eating certain foods.”

Over 450,000 Australians with diabetes need to use insulin every day to stay healthy, yet, many are shamed for doing so or checking their glucose levels in public, Professor Johnson added.

“This year we are asking people in the community to ask themselves – ‘Would you mind?’ if you were blamed, shamed or judged for having a serious health condition that anyone could develop?

“Nobody chooses to get diabetes – no matter what type of diabetes they have. Diabetes is a complex range of conditions with many different types and stages and while diet and being overweight is a contributing factor for many people with type 2 diabetes, there are many other contributing risk factors for diabetes that needed to be understood.

“Nobody should be blamed or shamed about having diabetes.”

Diabetes Australia says stigma has major implications on how people manage their condition.

Its research found 52% of people with type 2 diabetes assume they are overweight or have been in the past, 37% say people judge them for their food choices, and 26% have been told they brought it on themselves. Meanwhile, 67% of people with type 1 diabetes say they are judged if they eat sugary foods or drinks.

“Diabetes is not a joke, and stigma is more than just hurtful words and actions. It can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, mental, and social wellbeing,” Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, Professor Jane Speight, said.

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