Diabetes Myth Busters

1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year, and nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. This means, that for 9.4% of our population, diabetes is an everyday reality. “Everyday Reality” is also this year’s theme for National Diabetes Month this November. The goal of this month is to “create urgency about diabetes, help educate others, break down stereotypes, and correct myths and misunderstandings surrounding the disease,” according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Many students on campus understand the everyday reality of living with diabetes. The Collegiate Diabetes Network chapter at Georgia Tech (Buzz for Betes) was founded in 2016 to support students with diabetes and to spread awareness about the disease on campus. With the disease comes burdens: physical, emotional, and financial. If these weren’t difficult enough, individuals with diabetes often face negativity and misconceptions. While Buzz for Betes is dedicated to breaking down stereotypes year round, this month is an especially good time to battle the stigma around Diabetes. We spoke to the Stamps Health Services medical experts to debunk some of the biggest diabetes myths.  

Myth 1: Eating sugar causes diabetes.

A diet high in calories from any source, not just sugar, can contribute to weight gain. Weight gain does increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes, but Type 2 diabetes is not directly caused by sugar. The development of Type II diabetes is a product of genetics and overall lifestyle factors. Furthermore, Type 1 diabetes is not linked to sugar or diet, but by genetics and other unknown factors. Stamps Health Services senior director Dr. Ben Holton said, “It is important to understand the two main types of diabetes to understand the causes of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes tends to affect younger patients, and is thought to be caused by an autoimmune process in which one’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Type 2 diabetes is often called adult onset diabetes, and is more closely associated with being overweight.”

Myth 2: People with Diabetes can’t eat sweets.

People with diabetes can consume sugar safely. If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes, according to the ADA. Sweets are not “off limits.” The key is to limit portion size and save them for special occasions! Just as it is for people without diabetes, everything in moderation.

Myth 3: Diabetes only affects people who are overweight.

First of all, although weight can serve as a trigger to its onset, obesity does not cause Type 2 diabetes. The U.S. obesity rate is 37%, and the diabetes rate is just under 10%. Secondly, around 20% of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are normal weight or underweight. Thus, although weight is a contributing factor to the development of the disease, it does not cause Type 2 diabetes. The development of Type 1 diabetes isn’t related to being overweight. In both cases, keeping a healthy weight is an important part of diabetes management. But, it is important to recognize stigma in the media, as well as promote body positivity when talking about the disease.

Myth 5: You shouldn’t do sports or exercise if you have diabetes.

Dr. Holton said, “Exercise is an important part of staying healthy for everyone, including those individuals with diabetes.” As long as people with diabetes practice self-awareness and pay attention to blood sugar levels, it is safe for most to reap the rewards of sports and other fitness activities. Furthermore, exercise can actually have many benefits, including weight management, energy boosts, and mood improvement. Swimmer Gary Hall, Jr. has type 1 diabetes and 10 Olympic medals. Carolina Panthers Defensive tackle Kyle Love has two forced fumbles and Type 2 diabetes.

Myth 6: Diabetes is contagious.

Diabetes is in no way contagious. It is unknown why some people develop diabetes and others don’t, but it is certain that diabetes is not contagious— and scientists haven’t found any links between vaccines and diabetes. People with diabetes inherited genes that made them more likely to get it. Diabetes isn’t something you can “catch” from someone else.

National Diabetes Month is also a great time to celebrate and support those in your life who live with diabetes. Check out Buzz for Betes on Instagram @cdngt for upcoming events that you can support on campus. To find out more about Georgia Tech’s chapter of the Collegiate Diabetes Network, go to orgsync.com/136136/chapter.

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