Q: A lot of people think that I fed my daughter too many sweets, and that’s how she ended up with diabetes. How do I deal with uninformed people, and what do I say to those who don’t understand that type 1 diabetes is different than type 2 diabetes?

A: Many people’s experiences with diabetes is limited to knowing an adult with type 2 diabetes. So it’s little surprise that a significant number of people simply don’t know very much about type 1 diabetes or the differences between the two conditions. Still, when an acquaintance or family member asks you a question that seems to imply you gave her too many sugary foods or did something else to make her sick, it’s easy to feel defensive.

As the father of a child with type 1 diabetes, I know firsthand how hurtful these questions are. In my role as a doctor working with families affected by the condition, my best advice is always to be prepared. If you’re confident in your own knowledge about diabetes, it becomes much easier to quickly diffuse awkward comments.

In fact, one of the first things we want parents to know when their child is diagnosed is that nothing the child or parent did caused it; and on the flip side, there was nothing that they could have done to prevent type 1 diabetes from developing. This is also a good first piece of information to pass along whenever you share information about your child’s diagnosis. Eating sweets is unrelated to the development of type 1 diabetes. Rather, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to stop making insulin, and doctors don’t completely understand why it occurs.

In type 1 diabetes, taking insulin every day is a requirement, whereas in type 2 diabetes the body may still make insulin but it may not make enough, or the insulin it does make cannot be used properly. Individuals may be able to manage their condition by diet and exercise alone, or may also need to take pills or insulin.

On your end of the questions, it’s probably going to feel like you are explaining the differences between type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes a lot, especially during the first few weeks and months after your child’s diagnosis. This is already an emotionally charged time, and having to repeat yourself over and over again can quickly become tiring and annoying — even if the people asking are among those closest to you. It’s important to remember that most people simply don’t know much about diabetes, and answering their questions is an opportunity to educate them.

David Jelley–Dr. David Jelley, M.D., is a pediatric endocrinologist and medical director of the Tulsa branch of the Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center, part of the Oklahoma University School of Community Medicine. Dr. Jelley’s 14-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4.


See more People in the Know questions and answers >


Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.