It seems a stretch to file news about diabetes death rates under “food and drink,” but that’s the category where Gothamist stuck its recent post “Someone Dies from Diabetes Every 90 Minutes in NYC.” I mean, yes, the disease affects a metabolic process, but is it of a piece with updates about lobsters, ice cream, cronuts, and glazed donut breakfast sandwiches? If peanut allergies became endemic in Brooklyn, and swaths of children started dying, would Gothamist post it next to “Science Says Cheese is Good for Your Teeth”? Well, maybe, but there’s also the fact that diabetes is also kinda funny, because it’s for fatties, thus Gothamist’s tastefully chosen photograph of two morbidly obese children in a fast-food restaurant. Lulz! Those two definitely have diabetes amirite?
Well, no, of course not: the kind of diabetes that typically affects children (and grown-ups into their 20s), Type 1 diabetes, has no known cause. A friend from grad school, who had “dedicated [his] life to fitness,” recently received a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. But I know what you’re thinking: Type 1 diabetics only account for roughly a tenth of estimated diabetics in the US. The rest have Type 2, the one typically associated with older people and the obese. It’s true that new cases of diabetes have skyrocketed in America over the last three decades. And that we should encourage people to lead healthier lives: more physical activity, better eating choices. At the same time, having Type 2 diabetes no more indicates that you’re overweight than a diagnosis of AIDS means you’re gay. Obesity hasn’t even been determined to be a cause of Type 2 diabetes; there’s merely a correlation. Many skinny people get Type 2!
But that’s not funny, right? Hey, remember how fucking hilarious it was when Paula Deen got diabetes? Because she was known for using lots of butter and sugar in her cooking? (It’s fair to resent her endorsement deals, though.) Isn’t it so funny that, according to the CDC, “a person with diabetes has a shorter life expectancy and about twice the risk of dying on any given day as a person of similar age without diabetes”? (Emphasis mine.) Even if obesity was directly the cause of Type 2 diabetes, fuck you: diabetes as a disease sucks—and it lasts forever, and the last thing people for whom now all food is poison need to feel is guilt and shame from a bunch of jerks. Sick people don’t owe the healthy an apology. Do we go up to AIDS patients and say, “way to wear a condom”? Do we pass cancer patients and chide them on the lifestyle choices they made? No, because being an asshole who’s ignorant of what causes various health problems doesn’t solve public health crises—or help individual human beings to deal with the very real problems they now face.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart