World Diabetes Day began in 1991 in response to growing concerns around diabetes. This year it will be recognized Thursday.
The day works to promote the efforts of the International Diabetes Federation and is a way to take action to promote diabetes as a global health problem. The theme of the day this year is "family and diabetes."
Diabetes is “a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body cannot make good use of the insulin it produces,” according to the International Diabetes Federation website.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows glucose from food to pass from the bloodstream into the body cells for energy.
Derek Gibson, junior in computer science, has type 1 diabetes. Gibson said having diabetes is an inconvenience and has caused a lot of problems.
Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile-onset diabetes, is usually caused by an auto-immune reaction. The reaction causes the defense system of the body to attack the insulin-producing cells.
“[It’s] just the inconvenience of having to [handle it in social settings],” Gibson said. “I have to be able to track [it] and if I have a problem it’s kind of awkward because it’s like ‘OK I need to go take care of this problem or I won’t be able to do something because I don’t have any insulin left, so I need to leave.’ It’s stressful in the social setting and just health-wise in general, and all that ties together with how I live my life. It makes academics just a little harder too.”
World Diabetes Day is meant to raise awareness about the condition and the impact it can have on those who have it and their families.
“It is an unseen disease in that everybody just kind of thinks you’re OK [or] that you are just kind of faking it or whatever because there is not really seen problems with it,” Gibson said. “So that’s kind of like an internal stress; it’s just like ‘OK I have this problem and people don’t really realize that.’”
Diabetes can also pose a financial stress to families because of the cost of insulin and devices to manage insulin levels.
“I know it is kind of a financial burden on my parents just because of the rising cost of medical supplies for insulin and other supplies,” Gibson said. “Just recently I switched to a new insulin pump, which cost about $800. So that has been tough for my parents, and then they had to also learn how to manage [diabetes] when I was young. I also have brothers that [...] always try to look out for me in the fact that I have diabetes.”
Steven McCormick, sophomore in psychology, was 15 when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. McCormick said that after he felt more fatigued and thirsty than usual, he went to the doctor where he received his diagnosis.
McCormick said the financial aspect isn’t a huge issue that affects him as his family can afford the medical cost that comes with diabetes, but the biggest change for him was worrying about his diet and other adjustments such as low blood sugar and eating times.
In order to stay healthy, McCormick said it is important not to be negligent. He said he has become more conscious of his diet and thinks of his diabetes as more of something he has to keep track of.
“It’s kind of like your phone, where before you had a phone you never even thought about it,” McCormick said. “But now that you have a phone every time you leave the house without it you’re like ‘oh I left my phone there’ or when it’s low you need to charge it. It’s just constantly at the back of your mind. That’s probably a similar analogy to what having diabetes is like.”
As far as diet goes, Gibson said he doesn’t really watch what he eats that much but does try to keep certain foods out because they can cause complications.
Emma Bontrager, sophomore in architecture, has type 1 diabetes and was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 10. Bontrager said other than following a celiac diet, she does not strictly monitor anything else in her diet.
For diabetics, diabetes is a part of their everyday lives. Some have had diabetes from an early age. Bontrager said diabetes is something she has always known.
“I have had diabetes since I was two, so I really haven’t ever known any other lifestyle,” Bontrager said. “I think it really affects a lot of the stuff I do day to day and it affects a lot of decisions. I don’t really remember anything changing; the only significant thing was that because I was raised with it there was a major shift that I had to make at a point in my life from my parents taking care of me to doing it on my own.”
Gibson was diagnosed with diabetes when he was four years old. He said he has very few memories of his diagnosis but can remember waking up in the middle of the night to drink a lot of water and going to the hospital as a child.
While diabetes can be manageable and low stress, it can also bring up various obstacles.
Bontrager said her having diabetes has been hard for her family, especially during her transition to college. While growing up, Bontrager said phone calls always started with being asked about her health, but new technology has helped her condition become less scary.
McCormick said the most difficult things about having diabetes is the hassle of maintaining the condition. He said going on trips, even small ones, is difficult because he has to plan ahead and bring insulin.
Having diabetes also poses struggles for McCormick when he participates in sports and other exercise activities.
“[With] physical activities and sports you always have to have food, so it just is a hassle,” McCormick said. “Generally it is the same life, just 10 percent more hassle with everything. Playing tennis in high school, doing taekwondo, now [...] you can never be caught off guard with no food.”
Bontrager said diabetes is not something to be afraid of, but understanding what it is and how it works is important.
“Diabetes is not a disability by any means,” Bontrager said. “It’s just something that we live with and deal with and it’s not that weird of a thing.”