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Is It Wrong to Call Someone a “Diabetic”?

The American Diabetes Association weighs in about using “diabetic” to describe people

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What to call someone living with diabetes – “a diabetic” or “person living with diabetes”? It’s a question that has long been debated.

Although some people are comfortable with the “D” word, others say that it is a label with negative connotations – like calling a person living with cancer a “cancer-ic” – and that it allows the condition to define the person.

The American Diabetes Association has now weighed in ­– against using “diabetic” to describe a person. In their newly released 2016 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes, the Association announced that they would no longer use the word to describe individuals and instead will use “patient,” “person” or “individual with diabetes.” The Association will continue to use “diabetic” as an adjective when describing complications related to diabetes, such as “diabetic neuropathy.”

We asked Gary Scheiner, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE®) who lives with type 1 diabetes, how he felt about using the term “diabetic” and about the Association’s announcement.

“I believe the key is individualization,” said Scheiner. “Many people who have diabetes don’t mind calling themselves ‘diabetic,’ and don’t mind if people close to them use the term as well.”

Scheiner, the author of Think Like a Pancreas, continued: “It can be a source of pride to be included in a strong and influential community, and to have overcome some steep challenges. But [people] may take exception when others who are not close to them use the term, feeling that they are being ‘pigeonholed’ into a negative public perception. So I think it’s OK to use the term ‘diabetic,’ as long as you’re careful about whom it is directed towards.”

(Read more from Gary Scheiner on using the term “diabetic.”)

Kate Cornell, who blogs about her life with type 2 diabetes at Sweet Success, says that she didn’t give the term much consideration until she became active in the diabetes online community (DOC). “Early in my life with diabetes … people I met face to face used the term quite often and I was never offended,” she said. “The DOC allowed me to interact with many others and I heard other people’s perspectives. My take? It’s just a word and I don’t feel as if it labels me at all. I am not my diabetes and terms revolving around diabetes don’t define me. As a blogger, however, I’m cognizant of others’ feelings and rarely use that term in my writing.”

Jessica Apple, editor in chief of the online diabetes magazine A Sweet Life, said that most of their writers use “person with diabetes.” “But I can’t say we don’t use ‘diabetic,’” she added.

Apple herself was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as an adult, and her husband, Michael Aviad, also lives with T1. Together they founded A Sweet Life in 2009. “I was fortunate to be diagnosed late enough in life that I didn’t have to struggle with the issue of being defined by diabetes (just constantly annoyed by it),” explained Apple.

But as this topic came to light last month on A Sweet Life, Apple said she thought about how she describes herself. “I can’t recall ever having said, ‘I’m a diabetic.’” If it comes up in conversation, she’ll say, “I have diabetes.”

“So maybe I have a stronger preference than I admit.”

As for whether A Sweet Life will follow the Association’s lead, Apple said although the site hasn’t had an editorial policy thus far, “Now would be a good time to implement one.”

Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE®, Kate Cornell and Jessica Apple received no compensation for their interviews on Discuss Diabetes. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees and/or contributors, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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