My study found incorrect portrayals of diabetes in the media may affect public understanding of the condition

Author: Rebecca's story | Posted: 15 May 2017

It is upsetting and frustrating to see an incorrect or insensitive portrayal of diabetes in the media.

As a psychology student I wanted to look deeper into what role this plays on people’s understanding of diabetes.

For my final university dissertation I looked into public understanding of diabetes, and what role the media plays in it.

I was watching a presentation on schizophrenia in the media when the very important topic of diabetes in the media came to mind.

I had always wondered if there was a way I could connect my experiences living with type 1 diabetes to psychology and I was so happy to finally find a topic regarding diabetes and psychology that I could be passionate about.

Type 1 diabetes, Eastenders and me

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes six years ago, at age 15. Since then I have been asked every question imaginable about my type 1 diabetes, such as “is that because you ate too much sweets as a kid?” and “can you eat this?” as they pass me a bit of chocolate cake.

I am sure you all agree with me that this lack of understanding about diabetes probably amounts from some of the ridiculous portrayals in the media. On so many occasions I have been sitting watching the TV when BAM – incorrect diabetes reference.

For example, one I will always remember is an Eastenders episode where they are having a party for one of the kids and one of the cast members says: “If the kids don’t give themselves diabetes it is not a good party is it?”

It makes you feel rubbish when you see diabetes being wrongly portrayed and so when the idea popped into my head, I knew it was the right topic for me to do to see if I could raise awareness of the wrongful portrayals in the media and improve people’s knowledge of diabetes.

My research on media and type 1 diabetes

200 people completed my online questionnaire. The questionnaire, aimed at people of ages varying from 16 to 80 and not living with diabetes, tested the participants’ diabetes knowledge. This included the risk factors, causes and treatments, and also how accurate they believed media portrayals about diabetes to be and which type of diabetes it is referring to.

The scene from Eastenders featuring the line about diabetes and children’s parties

The results of the study showed a relationship between how much an individual is influenced by the media and their diabetes knowledge scores. Those who were more believing of the media were less smart about diabetes.

This shows that the incorrect portrayals in the media may be affecting diabetes knowledge and understanding, which comes as no surprise to me.

If we make sure all portrayals of diabetes in the media are correct, it will not only teach people the facts about diabetes but also raise awareness about this horrible condition!

Which types of people know the most about diabetes?

As well as this main finding, I also looked into other factors that may be influencing diabetes knowledge. Reassuringly, I found that medical professionals know more about diabetes than non-medical professionals.

However, diabetes knowledge was lacking in those with low education levels and in males. More worryingly, there was no difference with those with family and friends who have diabetes, suggesting friends and family need to touch up on their knowledge!

Another interesting finding was that those who identified the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes scored the highest diabetes knowledge scores. This suggests to me that education tools stressing the difference between types 1 and 2 diabetes are vital. Media content could also focus on the difference between the types, as a lot of media lumps diabetes into one, which is massively incorrect.

Doing my dissertation on this was difficult and unsettling at times as I read the responses but I am definitely glad I chose it, as it’s such an important issue and I hope my research at least taught those who did my questionnaire that they need to educate themselves about diabetes.

In conclusion, the media need to get their facts right and the general public need to be educated more about diabetes. Let’s get rid of the misunderstandings!

A woman at a JDRF type 1 diabetes discovery day

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