Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An open letter to Jamie Oliver.

Sometimes we don’t know we’ve done something hurtful until someone shines a light on it.

(Hold on…let me find a flashlight…)

Generally, when something hurtful is presented, one likes to lash back with hurtful words. Tit for tat as the saying goes.  And although I’m tempted to go there, someone I love reminds me daily to, “always assume the best in people.”  So in the spirit of fairness, I'm going to go ahead and assume you just don’t know…

I assume you just don’t know that posing in front of a huge Coke bottle that says “DIABETES” is hurtful to those that have Diabetes.

I assume that you did it as a caution to others not to overindulge in sugar because it is detrimental to the systems in our bodies.  Over indulgence can cause obesity.  And I assume that you think obesity automatically means diabetes…

That last assumption—my assumption that your assumption is that obesity automatically means diabetes—well, that's where the hurt comes in, because that is misinformation.

I assume you didn’t know that.

Obesity does not automatically mean diabetes.

Many people are obese and do not have diabetes.

Many people are thin and do have diabetes.

Coke, Twinkies and Pie do not diabetes make.

According to WHO, about 35% of the world’s population is overweight and of that 35%, about 11% is obese.

According to the IDF, about 7% of the worlds population has diabetes.

Insinuating that being overweight automatically means diabetes is misleading. 

The truth is, diabetes is a complicated disease.  Sometimes, a lot of times, people get it because of their genetics.  Sometimes people get it because they had gestational diabetes during pregnancy which predisposes them to Type 2 when they get older.  Sometimes people get it because they have autoimmune issues.  Sometimes people get it because they have other things going on with their body, like cancer.  And yes, sometimes people get it because they haven’t taken good care of their body.

But as long as we define diabetes as “SUGAR” or “FATNESS” we assign shame with the disease.  Once that is established, people hide their condition…and neglect happens. And we all know neglect is never ever (ever!) a good thing.

This is what’s happening, Jamie.  Today, people have walked into their doctor’s offices and been diagnosed with Diabetes.  Their doctors have told them it is all their fault, and in turn sent their patients away telling them to fix it or else (insert a terrible number of threats here.)  Saying diabetes is their fault is just the same as telling a depressed person it is their fault.  “Why don’t you just leave and be happy?”  Is the very same as “Why don’t you just leave and lose weight.” 

Instead doctors should say, “Let me help you.  Let me help you find peer support. Diet can be a factor, but there are many others.  Let me help you find the tools to succeed.  I’ll give you meds on my end, you do the work on your end and we’ll meet back here in a month to discuss the progress.  We can get you healthy together!”

Instead.  “You’re fat.  You are sickening.  Your feet are going to fall off if you don’t lose weight.” (Doctor’s may not say this outright, but let me tell you…a lot of times that is what patients hear.)

Standing in front of a Coke can and calling it Diabetes with a smug look on your face is degrading.  You are humiliating those that have Diabetes.  And for why?  To encourage people to get healthy? 

Scare tactics do not encourage.  Ever.

Scare tactics do not motivate.  Ever.



I know your heart is in the right place.  I know you are on a mission to help.  But what you’ve done isn’t help, in fact, it can only be defined as mean.

My son saw your picture.  He is 17.  He has Type 1 Diabetes, also known to the world as just “diabetes.”  His is autoimmune, but that is beside the point.  You gave him the message that his diabetes is caused by too much sugar. 

His friends saw that picture and you also gave them the message that his diabetes is caused by too much sugar. 

It isn’t.

And even if he did have Type 2 Diabetes, the statistics show that sugar isn’t always the cause.  Because 35% of the world’s population is overweight, and only 7% of the world’s population has diabetes.  (And some of that 7% population is thin.)

There are so many factors to Diabetes it isn’t fair to put a blanket “FAT” definition behind it.  It’s flat out misinformation.

I’m assuming good intentions, but the truth is…your picture is hurtful.

Instead of pointing fingers, let’s help.  Let’s encourage.  Let’s lead.

And please watch this:

I wholeheartedly agree--excess sugar isn't good for our bodies.  It for sure can be part of the story, but it FOR SURE isn't the entire story.  Your picture infers that a lot of Coke leads to Diabetes. We can't pretend we have the answers when we don't.  And as Peter says, "What if some our most fundamental ideas about obesity are just wrong? I can't afford the luxury of arrogance anymore, let alone the arrogance of certainty."

The more you know…


  1. Great Post Meri, I've sort of signed off of the web recently to force myself to be more present with myself and family and have completely missed the Jamie Oliver pic. However, I agree with you on your stance. I really appreciate you sharing the ted talk also, I love that the doctor had such a personal experience that altered his view of the "why" of a medical condition and has now become open to the fact that not every answer is obvious and may not perfectly align with current medical thinking. Hope things are going well for you and yours ;)

  2. yes, Yes, YES!!!!

  3. I hope Jaime get to read this.. thanks

  4. I wish all medical professionals and well, humans could be as enlightened as he is. My son was diagnosed with diabetes at 21 months of age and is now 10. It is shocking the things people say to us and that they actually think they are allowed to judge us. Noah has been on an insulin pump for 7 yrs and is a very healthy boy who takes care of himself better than most adults I know!

  5. I suggest anybody and everybody should tweet this like to @jamieoliver if you want his attention

  6. Nurses who don't know me always give me a lecture on how to control my "very brittle" diabetes. If not for sugar my count would be at 40, but if not for sugar, it wouldn't be at 300 either, sometimes in the span of 15 minutes. The whole, "you don't look fat", thing is very annoying.

  7. You are such an amazing young woman!

  8. Is it possible that you could give a photo credit/source for the image used please. I would like to see it in it's original context, accompanied by the original text before further commenting. As it stands the only place I can find this on the web is here & in the "Blogs I follow" bar of blogs that follow you. TIA.

    1. Deb, the link is on his Facebook page, here:

  9. Excellent post!! I hope you hear from Jamie soon....I assume ignorance as well!

  10. Jamie Oliver isn't making fun of diabetics. He's blaming Coke for contributing to diabetes. At least that's how I see it.

  11. Thank you for this excellent and thoughtful post. I especially appreciate your consideration for how these kinds of statements affect the entire diabetes community. Sometimes I see T1s get overly defensive, in the "It does not apply to T1, only T2" way, but they unfortunately miss the point of how it's inaccurate and hurtful and misleading for anyone with diabetes, no matter what age or type.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Being a Type 2 Diabetic, just diagnosed this year, and being over weight. I see so much shaming of Type 2 Diabetics from everywhere, it's really hurtful.

  13. Thanks! That was a great insight on a common issue for diabetes warriors. It's hard enough to manage diabetes without having emotional cards stacked against you.


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