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Should We Say “Diabetic” or “Person Living with Type 1 Diabetes”?

It is important to be mindful of the language that is used to identify people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and their lifestyle. Many people use words or phrases that can be considered demeaning when referring to people with T1D. Even though they mean well, their language can make some people with T1D feel self-conscious. The message that words convey can be perceived as moralizing, and have an impact on how people with T1D and their family and friends see their condition. 

What are neutral words or phrases we can use to avoid stigmatization?

Here are some examples of language that should be replaced by more neutral variants.

Moralizing or stigmatized phrasesMore neutral variantsExplanation
diabetic (as a noun)person living with type 1 diabetesIndividuals are not defined by their medical condition. It’s important to put the person first, and not the illness.
normal person (referring to a non-diabetic person)person without diabetesThis language implies that people with type 1 diabetes are not normal.
diabetes controldiabetes managementControlling diabetes would imply replacing the only organ that can perfectly control blood sugar, which is the pancreas, and that is impossible.
poor/good conduct 

poor/good blood sugar levels
acting according to the treatment plan or not

in-range/out-of-range blood sugar levels
Adjectives such as “good” or “bad” are subjective and can sound moralizing.

Do you have T1D? You can use whatever language you want.

These recommendations are mostly aimed at healthcare professionals, the families and friends of people with T1D, and those who wish to use a more neutral language. As a person living with T1D, you are completely free to use whatever words or phrases you feel comfortable using. If you wish to refer to yourself as a diabetic, you should be able to do so without encountering any prejudice or receiving any negative feedback from people without T1D. 

And while you shouldn’t bear the burden of educating the people around you about what are appropriate and inappropriate ways to refer to T1D, it is still important that you set your limits and that you don’t accept words or phrases that make you feel uncomfortable.

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Reference

  • Dickinson, J. K., Guzman, S. J., Maryniuk, M. D., O’Brian, C. A., Kadohiro, J. K., Jackson, R. A., Funnell, M. M. (2017). The Use of Language in Diabetes Care and Education. Diabetes Care, 40(12), 1790–1799. doi:10.2337/dci17-0041
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