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RE: "Diabetes, Disease of the Couch Potato"

Diabetes Youth Wellington
PO Box 1825

10th November 2000

Mr David Russell Consumers’ Institute Private Bag 6996 Wellington.

An open letter RE: "Diabetes, Disease of the Couch Potato" Consumer Magazine November 2000

Dear David

I have had a number of phone calls from Diabetes Youth Wellington (DYW) members and their parents who were appalled to see yesterday's Consumer Magazine with its heading "Diabetes: Disease of the couch potato".

I therefore feel obliged to write an open letter to you on behalf of my membership and some 15,000 New Zealanders suffering from type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that has no association with "lack of physical activity, obesity, and a diet high in animal fat."

By your own figures, there are at least another 15-20,000 New Zealanders suffering from type 2 diabetes (a degenerative disease) who are also not obese. In other words your magazine has accused some 35,000 New Zealanders of being obese and lazy couch potatoes just for having a disease for which the cause is not well understood. Even for people with diabetes who are obese, couch potato is an offensive term. You might as well accuse all heart attack victims of being couch potatoes as well, since heart disease is also, but not necessarily, associated with "lack of physical activity, obesity, and a diet high in animal fat."

The onset of Type 1 diabetes is usually in childhood or early adulthood. As yet it is not preventable. The underlying cause is genetic and is believed to be triggered by a virus, possibly in combination with other factors such as a protein acting as a toxin in susceptible people. Consumer Magazine mentions that "people with type 1 diabetes usually (!) have inherited immune-system deficiencies...", but at no stage did the article make it clear that people with type 1 diabetes (and thousands of others) have developed diabetes that is in no way connected with lack of physical activity, obesity and a diet high in animal fat.

Our members include a lot of children, teens in particular, who feel very self-conscious about their diabetes at the best of times and feel set apart, even discriminated against, at the worst of times because of the strictures (in both senses of the word) they must live under. To have ignorant accusations of "couch potato" flung at them in a national magazine is extremely upsetting to say the least. This is a stigma that children with diabetes can do without ­ as can people like All Black Jason O'Halloran, Black Cap Craig McMillan, and Dylan Mika who all have type 1 diabetes.

And what about women who develop gestational diabetes? This is not the first article about diabetes in the NZ media to carry such a slur, and my members have lost no time in telling me they are fed up with it. I trust that Consumer Magazine will clarify this situation in its next magazine and on its website. Sincerely

Crystal Bridger DYW President

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