“Does every good child deserve an Easter Egg? One in four kids is overweight or obese and here we are about to ram their little gullets with tooth rotting, diabetes-causing chocolate.”
If you don’t recognise that sentence, let me enlighten you.
This was, and still is, a Facebook and Twitter post and concurrent similar on-air spout from Channel 5 show The Wright Stuff, which as far as I can deduce, chose to put a rather contentious spin on a barely editorially justified segment to spark debate.
Nothing ‘wrong’ with that… I guess. (There is, but whatever).
At the very base level, they were suggesting that eating an Easter egg could ‘trigger’ diabetes. ‘Isn’t there something ever so slightly sinister about giving a child licence to gorge on chocolate and fat?’ asked Mr Wright as he introduced the segment.
Once you’re done guffawing at the very loose excuse for programming here, I don’t actually think he’s committed any kind of heinous crime with the item itself (WAIT!) – it was ill-judged daytime programming but it was, as he is, contentious to be conscientious, putting a silly spin on a holiday where parents deign to offer their children a foodstuff that is pleasurable, as a treat. You could see the relish on his face when he asked one caller whether they would be ‘poisoning’ their child with Easter eggs over the weekend – if we were to take that at face value he’s pretty much offended every parent in the land there. The man knows what he’s doing.
But moving on specifically to the diabetes comment. Ignorance and lack of understanding about diabetes – type 1, type 2, type whatever, happens. It will always happen. We get precious about it sure, and I bet he’s wondering what all that fuss was about, but that’s because we live and breathe it. And I do believe the ignorance is justified if you’re Mr ABC1 walking down the street not knowing anything about the condition because you‘ve never come into contact with it. However, it is completely unjustified and more to the point irresponsible, if your job is that you are a researcher or a producer or a presenter on a national TV programme, in a position of influence to inform and educate the nation, including Mr ABC1, on such highly topical and relevant issues as diabetes (although I refer you to Exhibit A: there is nothing remotely topical or relevant about inferring that eating a chocolate treat over a holiday period is even remotely sinister, much less can ‘trigger’ diabetes).
If you’re going to have discussions such as this, you really can’t afford to do so without thinking about the consequences of throwing such statements around – ones lacking clarification to the point of ridiculous, that influence the ignorant, so the ignorant become misinformed, and the misinformed misinform others who are ignorant. Who cares, you say? Well, my 11-year-old self cared when I was told by a TEACHER in front of a class full of my peers, at a time when peer acceptance was so important, that I must be diabetic because I’d eaten the wrong types of food when I was younger. Mums and dads care when they have to face quizzical looks yet again; judged as a parent because their child has been steamrollered an autoimmune disease they had no control over, yet society believes what my teacher innocently believed, that somehow they played a part. If you put yourself out there as a mouthpiece to society and you continue to reinforce things that are devastating in their vagueness (I’m using that term here to humour Mr Wright, as he’s so very sure his item was wholly and factually accurate), they will become inaccurate because the subsequent learnings are false. As such the stigmas, and the misconceptions that parents of young type 1s spend their lives correcting become deeper and deeper rooted – among adults, among educators and influencers and ultimately the children that this kind of programming can so dangerously effect.
Like most people, the follow up personal comments on Twitter are what I have the real issue with. Ignorant and stubborn, this is downright worrying as far as I’m concerned. I don’t write about things I don’t have an understanding of. Wright has repeatedly asked which specific comment had offended so many, claiming that his ‘trolls’ had not seen the item in question. They didn’t need to see the item in question, as – and correct me if I’m wrong – referring to ‘a tooth-rotting diabetes-triggering easter egg’ in the opening thirty seconds of the programme would have done it. And he’s since taken delight in the mass increase of Twitter followers he received over the furore in the subsequent days. Oh, the validation.
Wright claims he’s been bullied as a result of this, and while personal vitriol on a public platform cannot be excused, neither can a broadcast reinforcing a stigma that isn’t accurate; one that also makes an innocent child feel like they don’t deserve to do what almost every other child in the country is doing as a joyful part of a national holiday. His argument over and over again is that sugar can cause (type 2) diabetes. But even if we were to roll our eyes and take that point at face value, the segment was very VERY specifically talking about children. 90% of diabetics in the UK have type 2 diabetes yes, but crucially only 3% of children with diabetes have type 2. THREE PERCENT. The rest, a whopping 97% maths fans, are type 1. Which then actually makes the ENTIRE segment pretty much null and void, no?
So eating a chocolate egg once a year is about as likely to cause a child to get type 2 diabetes than that same child having a bath…
To entertain a couple of his tweets, Wright states in one that we talk generically about cancer and thus we should group diabetes under diabetes and be done with. Yes we do, because as far as I’m aware different types of cancer are (far-reaching) variants of unregulated cell growth. And more to the point, and the reason so many people are outraged at Mr Wright rather than the segment itself, if what I’m saying here is in any way wrong I am happy to apologise and amend this, as I have knowledge only by association of this very complex and devastating illness that only those with first-hand experience will really have a grasp on. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes however, are not the same disease – far from it, and it is hugely unfortunate that they were ever grouped as such under the same word. But if you are going to use this word in a discussion on national television it is then your responsibility to understand this. It is also precisely why getting it right and making a distinction is so important.
Another tweet: Diabetes UK is called such because it is campaigning for awareness and cure of BOTH types of disease, including awareness of the distinction between the two, which quite apparently is more crucial than ever.
Many of the tweets to Mr Wright came from informed people trying to educate someone less in the know, who unfortunately on this occasion were only to be dismissed without any admission of the responsibility that being a broadcaster comes with. Direct attacks to him on a public platform I agree – not in any way acceptable. But for the remainder, his replies were responses that simply enraged people trying to protect their children. Whether he perceives he made an error or not, I’m astounded that given the overwhelming response received from a mere five minute segment, Wright has yet to display the miniscule amount of humility needed to appreciate that there is a little more to this than his national broadcast would suggest.
So yes, Matthew. Many adult years of poor lifestyle and diet choices CAN contribute to type 2 diabetes. One child munching on a chocolate egg over Easter – the basis of your segment – CANNOT.
But for a child who has been graced with a lifetime sentence as a type 1 diabetic (did we get that? 97% of children with diabetes have type 1); a condition that they can barely pronounce let alone understand, who happily enjoyed a bit of chocolate last weekend just like everyone else; you have done nothing to dispel or allay their fears. Fears which are based on the perception of others, largely formed by mainstream media, that being landed with this condition was somehow their own fault.
Yes, they’re sat there munching their chocolate. GASP. But they’re not just say there munching their chocolate like the other kids. They’re also sat there counting the carbs in relation to the portion of chocolate they’re busy trying to enjoy, so that they can then inject the correct dose of insulin accordingly, a correct dose that will stop them from going either hypo or hyper – both of which can be life-threatening in the extreme, both of which could happen on any given day. A correct dose that they will have to work out every single time they eat or drink anything, chocolate or otherwise, for the rest of their lives. While their parents – the parents you spoke to so dismissively, the ones that in return weren’t particularly polite to you, watch over them as they cry while they give in to sticking needles in their finger to draw blood multiple times a day. Watch them squirm as they stick even bigger needles in their tummy, also multiple times a day. As those parents spend every hour of every day worrying their child is never far from slipping into a coma. As those parents adopt the role of nurse and psychologist on a topic they’re still getting to grips with themselves, and will have to continually learn and adapt to with every waking minute of the rest of their lives. As the child becomes an adult and realises this thing is never going to go away, and perhaps tries to fight it for a long time, to the point that their kidneys fail and they go blind.
But one can think of worse, hey.