I am a daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, and fiancée.
I am a friend, colleague, and mentor.
I am a pharmacist and a certified diabetes care and education specialist.
I am a strong, resilient, fierce, and independent woman.
I am not diabetic. I have diabetes.
There is a very important difference between the two.
A few years ago, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recognized the need to change the language used to talk about people with diabetes. In its 2016 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes, the authors boldly stated, “In alignment with the American Diabetes Association’s position that diabetes does not define people, the word ‘diabetic’ will no longer be used when referring to individuals with diabetes.”
Despite the call for change, the word “diabetic” is still widely used today by loved ones, health professionals, friends—even those of us with diabetes. Some may think this is no big deal or that “it’s just a word.” But the words we use reflect our beliefs and assumptions, and these ultimately shape our perceptions of others and influence our actions and behaviors.
Ask yourself: What are the first thoughts, words, or images that come to mind when you hear “diabetic”? What does “being diabetic” say about that person? About you?
The word “diabetic” is full of stigma and judgment. Trust me. As a person living with type 1 diabetes since 2007, I have experienced a lot of both over the years. For example, I’ve been told:
“You don’t look fat.” Not all people with diabetes are overweight. And not all overweight people develop diabetes.
“You don’t like needles? But I thought you had diabetes.” Just because my need for insulin requires me to use needles doesn’t mean I like them.
These are just two of many examples of how language matters. By removing the word “diabetic” from our vocabulary, we’ll see people with diabetes as just that: people, who also happen to have the disease.
The ADA has already called for change. We need to carry that change forward and believe that we are all more than our disease. Let’s create a culture where we stop identifying ourselves by our diagnosis and instead use language that empowers us to live our best lives.
It starts with us.
Stephanie Ostling, CDCES, is the inpatient diabetes program manager at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, North Carolina. In her free time, she enjoys supporting local restaurants, baking delicious new recipes for her fiancé and colleagues, and getting in a great workout.