Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver Suggesting What He Should Have Said About Sugar and Diabetes

New post in response to ill-informed and offensive PR piece by Jamie Oliver, influential chef and campaigner for healthy food


An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver, Top Chef, Food Writer and Campaigner for Healthy Eating

Dear Jamie

On my Facebook timeline this morning, a friend whose child, like mine, has Type 1 diabetes, alerted me to this provocative photo of you on your own Facebook page, as part of your campaign to encourage children to drink water instead of colas and other sugary drinks:

Jamie Oliver in front of a can of cola misleadingly labelled "Diabetes"

Now, I have a lot of respect for you, because instead of coasting on your high income and national treasure status, you have stuck your neck out with a substantial and controversial campaign to encourage families and schoolchildren in particular to embrace a healthier diet. When I say controversial, most of what have said in your campaigns is a no-brainer to anyone who is not a hardened McDonald’s addict: avoid processed food, eat a balanced diet, turn your back on fast food. (Some misguided parents continue to shove BigMacs through school railings to kids averse to trying your lovingly prepared, home-cooked school lunches, for fear of the unknown.)

But Jamie, you – or at least your publicists – really should know better than to make the schoolboy error indicated by your photo. You may be self-made, but you surely have some qualified dieticians as part of your team. And as any dietician will tell you: drinking Coke instead of water does not cause Type One diabetes.

Let me expand upon that statement.

Contracting Type 1 Diabetes has nothing to do with diet. It is an incurable immune disorder that affects people at random through no fault of their own. The part of the body responsible for producing insulin – the hormone that enables your body to process sugar (and all carbohydrates) – stops working. Extensive research is trying to identify what triggers this malfunction, but it is definitely not consumption of sugary drinks such as the brand your photo clearly alludes to.

I should know: my daughter had never touched a drop of Coca Cola before she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3.  My husband, diagnosed in his late 40s, can’t bear the stuff.

What I think you really meant and needed to say is this:

“Drinking sugary drinks, if done without being part of a controlled, balanced and healthy diet, increases the chances of becoming obese. Obesity carries increased risk of disorders which include TYPE 2 diabetes which is a completely different condition to TYPE 1 diabetes. Therefore it is wise to discourage drinking sugary drinks if you wish to avoid increased risk of obesity and its complications, of which there are many more, besides Type 2 diabetes. Sugary drinks are not great for your teeth either, due to the acid content, and fruit juices, though perceived as the healthy option, are also packed with sugar, causing unhelpful blood sugar spikes and a roller-coaster of energy levels.”

What you should also say is:

“I apologise to those with Type 1 diabetes for my error, which is likely to have added to the burden you carry daily of having to live with a serious condition requiring multiple daily blood tests and insulin injections to keep you alive.”

You might also like to say (because you are very influential for the excellent work you have done in schools to date):

“Please, guys, do not confuse Type 1 with Type 2 , and do not accuse anyone of bringing this horrible illness on themselves by eating too much sugar. Please do not bully them or abuse them when they test their blood or take their insulin – they need to do this many times every day simply to stay alive. Please be supportive to them and watchful – and if they suffer a hypo (which means they do not have enough sugar in their blood – a condition that can potentially kill them), make them drink a sugary drink such as full-sugar Coca-Cola which is the fastest way to restore their blood sugar imbalance to a safe level. If they cannot drink it because they have fallen unconscious, immediately call the emergency services who will save their lives another way. Yes, sometimes sugary drinks will save lives, not threaten them. Don’t make the mistake that I did, and you may well one day be a lifesaver yourself.”

With the facts set straight in this way, Jamie, your campaign to encourage children to drink water – the first choice now of many children, thanks to campaigners such as yourself – will have much more credibility and will garner much more support, including from those with diabetes of all kinds.

Thank you for listening, and please continue the fine job you are doing to raise standards in cooking and eating, for the benefit of present and future generations everywhere.

With best wishes

Debbie Young

English mother and wife, lover of home-made healthy food, and carer for two precious people whose lives have been turned upside down by a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes through no fault of their own

Author of Coming to Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, “a lovely uplifting little book, full of insight, wit, and practical know-how” (Dr Carol Cooper, President of the Guild of Health Writers)

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English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

36 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Jamie Oliver Suggesting What He Should Have Said About Sugar and Diabetes

  1. I’ve learned so much about type 1 and 2 in the last 6 months. Of course there is a huge negative in being overweight, not least of which is a horrible lack of energy. And I’m not going to get into the argument of whether eating too much can lead to diabetes. I just don’t know enough about it.

    But I do know that there are slim, healthy individuals with type 2, and that they don’t deserve the stigma any more than a type 1 diabetic. I think this post is trying to raise the detrimental effect of labelling any diabetic in the way mass media has tended to, and despite commenters’ disagreements with some of the facts, the sentiment is absolutely on the nail. Diabetics need support, understanding, and research into treatments that will make the condition less dangerous and stressful to live with. And a cure. None of which will come if the media continues to publicise misconceptions and untruths. So I say, well-said.

    1. Thank you very much, Actually Mummy! I’ve just spotted your post following Colleen Nolan’s ill-informed comments on “Loose Women” the other day. Where on earth did she get her idea from, that pregnant women eating too much causes their children to develop diabetes?! Completely bizarre. Well done for your clear response, and thank you for linking to my post too. It’s hard work to keep redressing misinformation, but someone has to do it!

      1. And in actual fact, one of the things I’ve found most difficult about living with the condition is that people tend to think it’s nothing to worry about, just a nuisance. It’s not. It kills, it can cause brain damage, and it is incredibly difficult to control, even for those who are motivated to do so. I do wish people wouldn’t brush it off as an inconvenience, but that’s how the media portray it, so we have no hope of being understood

      2. I know what you mean. Too often people assume all they have to do is just avoid sugar, and they’ll be fine – or they treat it as a sugar allergy. My daughter once went to a playdate when she was little and was given a sweet by her friend, and the friend’s mother made her spit the sweet out uneaten. Sigh. That’s one of the reasons I wrote my little memoir, to try to raise awareness of what it’s actually like to have your child diagnosed with Type 1 and to live with it on a daily basis. It felt like one constructive thing I could do to help make people understand. But I’m a small voice in the wilderness compared to high profile types like Jamie Oliver and Colleen Nolan, who have huge reach for their misinformation. It’s an uphill battle, but I refuse to surrender! (If you’re interested in finding out more about my book, from which all profits go to JDRF for research, there’s a bit on my blog here:

  2. This would have been great if you had got your facts straight about type 2 diabetes and apparent so-called risks of being fat. You have done about as much research as Mr Oliver. Pity.

    1. Hi Jo. My article and my knowledge is focused on Type 1 because that’s what affects my family. Regarding Type 2, my understanding is that although some risk factors for Type 2, such as genetics and race, cannot be controlled by the individual, weight reduction and dietary change will reduce risk and therefore lead to a smaller incidence of Type 2. Doctors routinely measure abdominal girth to assess increased risk of Type 2 and advise weight loss to reduce risk. This advice from Diabetes UK, the leading British charity which addresses both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, gives a clear and well-informed explanation, which will have been written under the guidance of leading medical authorities: I’m not sure why you dismiss this as “apparent so-called risks of being fat”, but do please feel free to elaborate in a further comment if you’d like to. Thanks for commenting.

      1. Thank you for your response. Unfortunately, it only reinforces a lack of knowledge about fat bodies. We can’t rely on the medical authority until we know who has done their research and what their motives were. Being fat does *not* cause type 2 diabetes. People of all sizes can get it. Poor diet can cause it, but this is not the sole domain of fat people. People of any size can have bad diets. The fact that type 2 diabetes can be managed without losing weight proves this. There is so much written on this and so much research into the myths about obesity and how medics have been misled too, and I’m sorry that you didn’t take the time to fully research this subject (perhaps much how Janie oliver hasn’t) before publishing this. I wish you hadn’t been prejudiced in a piece about prejudice because it takes away from your message. Misconceptions about obesity are as damaging psychologically as Jamie Oliver’s campaign will be to those with type 1 diabetes. By saying being obese carries risk of getting type 2 diabetes, you are saying you can tell by looking at someone how unhealthy they are. You can’t. By using the term obese, you are using the BMI as a valid tool for measuring health. Which it is not. It is widely discredited. Google it! You cannot identify someone’s diet, lifestyle, body composition, activity levels or family history by looking at their body. As a society we need to stop pathologising fat people as being diseased and thin people as being healthy whatever their habits are. It’s dangerous for us all. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to raise this and enlighten folk.

      2. Jo, thank you very much for such a detailed reply, but I think you’re reading something into my post that isn’t there: I am not prejudiced against anyone because of their weight nor am I suggesting that anyone can or should tell how healthy someone is by weighing them.

        I made no reference in the post to the BMI scale. When I used the words obese and overweight, I was using them in the sense of their original dictionary definitions i.e. obese meaning very overweight and overweight meaning weighing more than is considered healthy (which will vary according to culture and practice all over the world). Unfortunately the BMI scale seems to have hijacked these words to the extent that they’re now in many people’s minds inextricably associated with specific BMI measurements. Personally, I have never taken the BMI system seriously, even before it was widely discredited – I refuse to be guided by a scale that allows highly fit athletes to be classified as overweight or obese just because muscle weighs more than fat! Equally, I know very thin people who it judges to be within “correct” weight but who are clearly very unwell e.g. battling cancer. (Equally, I know very lean people who have contracted Type 2.)

        Funnily enough, I recently had a health MOT at my GP’s which included taking various statistics, and I was surprised to see that my BMI was to be recorded on the form. When the nurse calculated that I fell into the overweight category (26), I expected the nurse to recommend that I lost weight. When I queried why she didn’t, and it was heartening to hear her reply “Oh no, we don’t worry about that these days” – so encouraging news there, Jo!

        Thanks again for joining the conversation, and for bringing your important points to the discussion.

        Best wishes, Debbie

      3. By mentioning the word obese, you may as well align yourself with the BMI. As you say, they are words associated with it. Nevertheless, by saying that obesity increases risk of type 2 diabetes, you are saying fat people’s bodies are at risk of conditions which is discriminatory as you are generalising something about all fat bodies which is not true. This sort of stereotyping is damaging and oppressive. Thin bodies get conditions too and some fat bodies don’t. We need to stop typecasting fat ones so negatively. I am glad your GP surgery are finally catching up with the times! The fact they ‘don’t worry about that these days’ is because weight is not a proxy for health so it is useless using it as a guide and useless encouraging weight loss to improve health outcomes. It is far better to use other measures to determine our health outcomes. If you know that it isn’t just fat bodies that can be unwell, then can I ask that you don’t say ‘obesity’ is a risk factor in future articles? All sorts of things can be risk factors, but body size is not one of them. In time that might mean, one day, that fat people will not be vilified and pathologised in our society.

      4. I’m sorry, Jo, but I am not removing the words “obese” or “overweight” from my vocabulary just because the BMI system uses them, any more than I am going to stop using the words “normal”, “healthy” or “underweight”. These words existed long before BMI came along and the BMI system do not have exclusive right to them like some kind of trademark. That would be like asking me to stop using the words “good” or “outstanding” or “satisfactory” because OFSTED uses them to categorise schools.

        You clearly have very strong and well considered ideas, and I respect your sharing them here and I defend your right to say them, but I have that right too!

        Can I suggest that you post a link to your blog or articles you have written, as you have on my Facebook conversation, I think that would be a good idea, so that you can expand further there, rather than here? I hope that’s a helpful solution, and I’m sure those who are following this discussion will be very interested to follow you there. I need to close the conversation here as the rest of my day is taken up with scheduled appointments, and I don’t want you to assume I’m being rude by not replying!

        Thanks again for all your comments and for stimulating discussion.

        Best wishes

      5. Yes, of course I respect your rights to use those words. I just wanted to raise that by doing so you are using value judgements about body size which will, in some circumstances, cause outrage at your prejudice and ignorance which considering the point of your article, I would have expected you to be open to and understanding of. It is disappointing that you wish to continue to use the word ‘normal’, ‘under’ and ‘over’ when referring to weight – you have missed the point entirely. I will most certainly make sure I don’t confuse Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes thanks to reading your article, it is a shame you cannot reflect in the same way. I don’t have a blog but the link to the article I wrote about fat oppression in our society is here:

  3. I’m glad I read this. I spend a lot of time in the Middle East and particularly at the moment in Saudi Arabia where alcohol is banned. Diabetes is a huge problem in Saudi. Simply huge. And “simply huge” also describes the people – about half of them are embarrassingly obese, some to the point where you wonder how they manage to walk. When I eat lunch and dinner there I always ask for water with my meal (as I do in this country) and it’s clear that locals don’t regard this as a real drink – they press me to have something else as well. ‘You don’t want Sprite? Pepsi? Coke?’ They can produce a big list. The number of donut places is staggering and people gather there (the way we might in a bar or a coffee shop) to eat donuts and drink Sprite/Coke/Whatever. I’ve always assumed that that donut and sugared drink combination was what caused the diabetes and I’ve been pretty niggardly with the sympathy; it’s only after reading this that I realise that what I’m looking at is Type II diabetes and the other kind is not self-inflicted at all.

    1. Thank you for reading it and for your comment, and I’m glad you read it too! Many more people have Type II than Type I, and so it’s not surprising that people get confused. It really is a complex issue, and in fact although some cases of Type II are related to overeating and obesity (and can even be reversed by eating a better diet), there are also cases in which slim people develop Type II. So the whole business is nowhere near as simple as Jamie Oliver’s photo suggests – and it’s not surprising that those with either type are taking offence at his attitude. Well done to you for sticking with the healthy options when surrounded by temptation! And thanks again for joining our conversation.

  4. Thank you for speaking out for us T1 parents and for the children themselves who do not have a voice within the media they just feel the backlash of poorly thoughtout campaigns like this one. I feel very upset that Jamie could have let this happen he may blame his advisers but correct me if im wrong but he is the moron stood with a bottle of water large as life in front of that offensive can offensive to everyone T1s and T2s alike. Shame on Jamie Oliver!!

  5. i don’t like misunderstanding either but you do come dangerously close to perpetuating one. Correlation between obesity and diabetes type 2 is less strong than that between race and income and the condition. I have type one and I used to feel the same way. I now work with people with type 2 and have come to see the stigma they experience. We’re all in this together. we all feel the same when we’re high or low and we can all help each other out by furthering education and understanding/

    1. Hi James, and thanks very much for sharing your experience here. My own family’s experience is entirely with Type 1, so it’s really useful to have your input as someone close to the Type 2 community as well. I too was only recently aware that Type 2 was not all about lifestyle choices – I know a couple of people who were diagnosed despite being very lean. Your point that obesity is less often a cause than race and income is an important one, so thank you very much for that. The issue really is so much more complex than Jamie Oliver’s photo suggests!

  6. Bravo, Debbie, What a strong, clear message to Jamie Oliver, praising him for the salutary work he has done to improve the food children get at school, but admonishing him for not understanding the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Sugar can indeed sometimes save one’s life, in an instant. Your solid scientific foundations are unassailable. He’s in the food business: he should read your book and publicise it! Kind regards.Enver

  7. Great piece of writing! I love Jamie Oliver and was shocked he could get something like this so wrong! My 2 year old son was diagnosed type1 in November and been learning a lot since to keep my son healthy and well. I am sure he would be mortified at the feedback he has had and won’t make this mistake again. Still my fav chef! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Michelle, and I too am sure that Jamie Oliver will be horrified at the upset his photo has caused. It’s such a shame as I really admire what he has done to raise the profile of healthy eating, and this was really an avoidable mistake. Best wishes to you and your son, it’s tough living with diabetes but it’s amazing how quickly it becomes “the new normal”, and the children adapt really well at that age (my daughter was 3 when she was diagnosed).

  8. Well done Debbie for pointing out this important detail to Jamie. Type 1 is so often portrayed in this misleading way. I’m sure Jamie will let everyone know the true facts now that you have made him aware.

  9. are you trying to say that type 2’s dont deserve an appology too and that they brought this on themselves? no type of diabetes is caused by too much sugar… diet can CONTRIBUTE to type 2, but its not the only cause… why should type 2s be attached to this kind of stigma when they didnt chose this life either..

    1. No, absolutely not, Tara! I know several very lean people who have been diagnosed with Type 2 myself so am very much aware that it’s not the case.But thank you for clarifying that with your comment, for anyone who wasn’t clear there.

      1. I could be wrong here, but isn’t the reason that slim people get Type 2 because of their rather unsteady insulin levels due to dietary habits? Of course, being overweight adds risk but you don’t have to be overweight to put the same stress on your insulin response.

        So although I agree, Type 2 diabetes isn’t caused primarily by sugary drinks and other such dietary no-nos, for a campaign like this to work it needs to pack a punch against the problem at hand and that’s exactly what it does. People (think they) just don’t have the effort (usually due to lack of energy as per unhealthy lifestyles) to read extensive information on what is good and bad so needs exactly this.

        As for Type 1, a fantastic point that you’ve raised Debbie.

      2. Tom, I don’t have experience of Type 2 in my family, so am not the best person to answer your question – but I do know about Type 1 and that sugar does not cause it. Thank you very much for commenting, Tom.

  10. Well said !!! Ignorance comes to mind now when I think of Jamie Oliver sadly !!! I have a son with Type 1 diabetes which turned his life upside down at 7 years old having to come to terms with the never ending blood tests and injections just to stay alive. Jamie Oliver really needs to sort out his advisors before making such awful errors about diabetes. Maybe Jamie should spend a day with a family who’s child has Type 1 to see sometimes the benefits of the so called terrible high sugary drinks for type 1s and the life saver it can be !!! Yes high sugar drinks shouldn’t be given regularly but they do have their uses for some . Would be lovely to see Jamie Oliver stand up and say he was wrong and explain correctly the differences between type 1 and type 2 or even have him filmed being taught the differences by the one and only Dr Hilliary .

    1. Thank you for commenting, Amanda, and yes, what a great idea for him to spend a day with a family living with Type 1 Diabetes. (I’m sure there’d be no shortage of volunteers!) I think he is a good sort, so I’m hopeful that this will have a happy ending for all. With very best wishes to you and your superhero son Louie! I think all children with Type 1 need superpowers to get through the day sometimes!

  11. Well said, our children have enough stigma attached to their condition as it is. Jamie seems a lovely bloke who has children of his own. I’m sure once he receives this letter he will make amends. Our children shouldn’t be sneered at for drinking full sugar drinks because they are hypo and trying to stop themselves falling into a coma. If you’re going to make a statement in such a public way, get your facts right. Type 1 is autoimmune not diet related!!
    Yours Truly
    Claire, Mother/carer of my 11 year old son who has type 1 diabetes and a home made food cooking lover too.

    1. Thank you, Claire, and I’m glad if my post helps people understand that. It is such a shame because I think Jamie Oliver is a very decent bloke with the best intentions, and with huge influence. I’m hoping that he will now be able to help us spread the word too! Best wishes to you and to your son – same age as my daughter!

    1. Thank you, Dr Cooper, you have to wonder, eh?!I think it is a huge shame because I suspect he will be horrified when he realises how wrong this photo is, and if he doesn’t take steps to set things straight, he will lose a great deal of trust and goodwill among the community of those affected by T1D. Thank you for commenting.

      1. We need to educate the public. As a parent of a newly diagnosed T1, the misconceptions are incredible and so unhelpful. Thank you Debbie.

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