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

NO, JAMIE OLIVER, NO!

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"
NO, JAMIE OLIVER, YOU’VE GOT IT ALL WRONG!

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)

Cover front page only

 

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Reports of a Cure for Diabetes Are Greatly Exaggerated

A bit of a rant about sensationalist reporting of the latest diabetes research today

Front page of todays Times
Sack that editor – there is no cure yet

Before I’d even got out of bed this morning, two kind friends had already messaged me, in congratulatory tones, to say that a cure has been found for Type 1 Diabetes.

No, I wasn’t dreaming – but irresponsible and misleading headlines in quality newspapers that should know better were announcing the cure as if it were a fait accompli. Jaded by previously false reports, I wearily messaged my friends back to say that I wouldn’t believe it until there was further clarification, as I doubted that it could really be true.

False Hopes Dashed

I didn’t need to wait long to have my doubts confirmed. Tuning in to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, presenter Justin Webb (whose son has Type 1 diabetes, so knows about these things) interviewed someone from the JDRF, the leading charitable funder of the search for better therapy and a cure. “It can’t really be true, can it?” he asked tentatively. Sadly, the JDRF person agreed.

What has happened is that a major breakthrough has been made by Professor Doug Melton of Harvard University in stem cell technology. It could – eventually – be a vital piece of a huge jigsaw in making a cure available, but it has not yet been tested on people, and even when it has been, it doesn’t spell an instant cure. Even should a cure become technically possible, it doesn’t mean it will be universally available or affordable.

But you could forgive anyone reading the paper to think “Oh good, so we’ve cured Type 1 diabetes. I’ll stop donating to JDRF. Let’s move on to the next thing. How about ebola?”

No Sympathy for the Press

I understand that the newspaper industry is having hard times. It needs to sell papers. And it needs appealing headlines to sell papers. But it is heartless, thoughtless and destructive to emblazon such misleading headlines on the front page. It’s not information, it’s misinformation. The majority of readers won’t have read to the end of the piece, where tucked away on the second page, it is finally stated that a cure may still be many years off. Not only has it misinformed the masses, but it’s also upset those with Type 1 diabetes and their families, by creating false hopes only to dash them again.  It will take time to undo that damage.

So, to be clear – no, there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes – yet. Much more funding and research is needed to get us there. But there is hope, provided we keep raising money for research and raising awareness of the need.

Selection of items for diabetes care
From our bathroom cupboard, a small selection of stock required to keep my diabetic daughter alive – not including the pump, which she wears 24/7.

But for now, and for the forseeable future, we’ll keep taking the tablets insulin, and the bathroom in our house will continue to resemble a minor branch of Bootsthe Chemist.

New cover of Coming to Terms
Revealing the new cover of the paperback edition, to be launched on 13 November

And I’ll carry on campaigning. Next month, I’ll be launching the new paperback edition of Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, with a foreword by Justin Webb. Well, we seekers of truth and reason have to stick together, you know. And The Times really needs to get a grip.

  • If you’d like an invitation to the launch of my book at Foyles, Bristol on 13th November, please contact me to reserve a place. 
  • If you’d like to find out more about the great work done by the JDRF, visit http://www.jdrf.org.uk.
  • To read about some research being done at my local hospital, see my recent post: Tour of Hope at Southmead Hopsital
Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Tour of Hope at Southmead Hospital

Group photo of JDRF team, Laura and Dr Gillespie
From left: Lee and Danielle of JDRF, Laura with her JDRF mascot bears Ruby and Rufus, and Dr Kathleen Gillespie

Just before the summer holidays, my daughter Laura and I were lucky enough to be invited to tour some of the research laboratories of Southmead Hospital. The purpose of the tour was to see at first hand some of the work being co-funded by the JDRF to search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Regular readers of this blog will know that Laura was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of three, a few years after Gordon, my husband received his own diagnosis of the same disease.

JDRF logo and URLJDRF funds a lot of research projects all around the world, and by chance some of these happen to be based in the hospital that helps us manage Laura’s diabetes. It’s also the hospital in which she was born. So there were lots of good reasons to go along for a look behind the scenes, even though the tour happened to fall the day before we were about to depart to Greece on holiday. I’m very glad I made the slightly reckless decision to abandon our packing and go for it!

What We Saw on our Tour

Photo of Dr Gillespie syringing liquid
Dr Gillespie demonstrates DNA extraction – from a kiwi fruit!

Accompanied by our regional JDRF team, the lovely Lee Newman and Danielle Angelli, we were shown round the labs by Dr Kathleen Gillespie, a researcher in molecular medicine with special interest in the genetic mechanisms underlying immunity. Apparently 50% of the occurrences of T1D are thought to be genetic-related – although it’s by no means straightforward, as there are incidences of identical twins, one of whom develops the disease and the other doesn’t.

Photo of technician with full tray of samples
“And here are some I prepared earlier”

Dr Gillespie introduced us to her cheerful and welcoming team of staff who have dedicated their careers to amazing projects investigating the prediction and prevention of the development of Type 1 diabetes. We toured a series of small laboratories, each with a special set of expensive machinery – but the machinery would be worthless without the intelligence and imagination of the extraordinary staff who operate it. Their kit included some less costly items that you’d find in any kitchen, such as fridges and microwaves. When Dr Gillespie showed us how to extract DNA, she did so on a kiwi fruit!

“Our work does look a lot like cookery sometimes,” said Dr Gillespie. “People who are good at cooking are usually good at lab work too!”

How the Work is Funded

Every research project that goes into the jigsaw of the search for a cure has to be funded separately, in blocks, with submissions made to fundholders in order for the work to continue. The tour made us all aware of the importance of raising funds for the JDRF long-term, so that their work can continue.

We all came away motivated to work harder to raise funds and awareness for JDRF. We were also inspired by the imagination, creativity, positive attitude and dedication of Dr Gillespie, her team, and their equivalents around the world, for helping bring the cure for diabetes ever closer.

Photo of Laura looking at contents of test-tube in lab
“So that’s what DNA looks like!”

My Book Launch in aid of JDRF

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Cover design by SilverWood Books

This November, to mark World Diabetes Day, I’ll be launching the paperback edition of my book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, to make more widely available the ebook that I published for WDD last year. A new chapter will be included entitled “Diabetes Is Always With Us”. If you’re within reach of Bristol and would like to come to the event launch at Foyles Bookshop, Cabot Circus, on Thursday 13th November, the eve of World Diabetes Day, please send me a message to reserve you a place at the event. I’ll also send you more details of the launch.

For more information about the JDRF, please visit their website: www.jdrf.org.uk.

For more information about Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, see this page on my website here: Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

Sharing the Love of Books on BBC Radio Gloucestershire

A post about my most recent appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, including a link to enable you to hear the show if you missed it

Debbie Young at BBC Radio Glos studio
Photo credit: BBC Radio Glos receptionist!

“Every Saturday we like to talk live to an interesting guest between 1pm and 2pm” said an email from BBC Radio Gloucestershire that popped up in my inbox last Thursday, inviting me to appear on Manpreet Mellhi’s show last weekend.

I’ve blogged previously about my appearance on this regional BBC radio programme, and it’s always been a pleasure to be asked.The presenters are pleasant, genuine and passionate about the local community, and the station is highly regarded.

My answer to this latest invitation had of course to be “yes please!”

And so it came about that late morning saw me heading north in my car, through glorious sunny Cotswold lanes, with my satnav pointed in the direction of the Gloucester city centre studio, having spent part of Friday mulling over the stimulating list of questions sent in advance by the programme’s researchers. Pet hates, personal philosophy, favourite place in Gloucstershire – answers to all of these and more were requested, to help Manpreet, whom I’d never met before, prepare for our live on-air chat.

A Technical Hitch

So far, so good – until, with five minutes to spare, and a couple of minutes way from the BBC studios, my satnav switched itself off without warning, leaving me floundering as to which way I should be heading. Naturally, this had to be right at the point where one-way systems and the no-stopping zones kicked in, making it tricky to pull over and solve the problem.

Making split-second decisions, I veered off into the first side-street I could find with a safe place to stop and to give my satnav a firm rebuke. Using about the only technical piece of knowledge that I have about motoring, I realised that the problem was a blown fuse in the cigar lighter, into which the satnav lead is plugged. Fortunately, the only repair I’m capable of making to a car is to change a fuse, and I happened to have a couple of suitable sized fuses in the glove compartment. (Just as well there were a couple, as the first one blew straight away too.) Trying not to look at the clock, I plugged in the second replacement fuse, snapped the cover back on the fuse box, and fired up the satnav again. I reached the studio seconds before I was due to arrive, heart pounding, adrenalin still flowing.

Luckily for me, I was welcomed by a calm and sympathetic member of staff who plied me with a much-needed glass of water in the waiting area while the on-the-hour news report ran its course, and one of the station’s reporters, Joanna Durrant, stopped to catch up on each other’s news. (By chance, she’d been reporting that morning on a farming issue from a field near the village in which I live!)

“On Air”

Then I was welcomed by Manpreet herself into the cool, air-conditioned, sound-proofed studios, where all was calm. I started my interview with a big smile, triggered by the introductory music they’d chosen for me: the theme from “Murder, She Wrote”!

Cover of "Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabte
Now out in ebook – paperback to be published later this year

Manpreet is an avid reader and we had a wide-ranging chat about books and the nature of reading, about favourite childhood books and the importance of also reading outside your comfort zone. While we had heaps in common – including a deep respect for the wisdom of independent bookshop staff – there were also new things to share. She was particularly taken by the idea of flash fiction, which she’d not come across before, and in how self-publishing is democratising the publishing process for authors. Manpreet also took an interest in my book about Type 1 diabetes, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise her listeners’ awareness of what it is and how it affects everyday life for those with the misfortune to contract it (like my husband and our daughter).

And We’re Clear…

As ever, I was impressed by how simple these professionals make it look to guide lively, wide-ranging conversations, within very precise time constraints, interspersing scheduled interruptions such as time checks, weather reports, news bulletins and alerts for later programmes – all while talking naturally and with as much warmth as if you were just sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend. By the end of our appointed hour – just the middle hour of Manpreet’s three-hour broadcast marathon – I was exhausted! But I left the studio with a smile and a skip back out into the sunshine, and when my satnav went haywire again on the way home, I didn’t care – I just enjoyed the scenic journey home in the sunshine, feeling grateful as ever to live in such a wonderful part of the country, served by our fine national broadcasting station.

 

Listen To The Interview Here

UK residents may catch the programme on the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service till the end of this Friday, but thanks to kind help of the station’s staff, I am also able to share the broadcast with you here via an .MP3 file, preserved here for posterity.

Thanks again to Manpreet, Zoe, Gemma, Joanna and team for their hospitality and help, and to BBC Radio Gloucestershire for their kind permission to share the recording via my website.

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

The Seven Year Itch & Type 1 Diabetes

(A post written to mark the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes)

Debbie and Laura at TIm's house
Laura doesn’t remember being without Type 1 Diabetes

Getting ready to celebrate my daughter Laura’s 11th birthday in 13 days’ time, I can’t help remembering that seven years ago on this day, I was hoping that we’d be out of hospital in time to celebrate her fourth birthday party.

What were we doing in hospital? We’d been urgently despatched by our lovely family doctor, Dr Mather. She’d alerted A&E (aka the Emergency Room) at Bristol Children’s Hospital to expect our arrival.

It was imperative that we were seen straight away to reduce the chance of Laura becoming dangerously ill.

“Are you in a fit state to drive?” Dr Mather asked. “If not, I’ll call an ambulance to blue-light you there.”

With adrenalin surging from the shock of the diagnosis, we were almost in a fit state to fly there, Superman-style, to save our baby.

All Change with Type 1 Diabetes

That was the start of a whole new way of life for us, accommodating the daily need to do things that fly in the face of maternal instinct:

  • to stick needles in in my child to deliver life-preserving insulin
  • to prick her fingers, lots of times, every day, to draw blood to test it was neither dangerously high or low

It’s a balancing act, always, 24/7, 365 days of the year. Until a cure is found, there’s never a day off, because if we stopped doing those things, she’d be dead within days. Managing Type 1 diabetes is not for the faint-hearted. But being faint-hearted is not an option.

Lucky Seven?

Laura and Debbie Young on a hill
With Laura, aged 7

Seven years feels like it should be a magic number. It’s a special anniversary when people are meant to become suddenly desirous for change or take off in new directions in search of freedom.

There’s no magic here today, except the evidence, as every day, of the wonders of modern medicine and the compassion of our NHS (National Health Service) that supplies us with the resources we need to keep Laura alive.

Another Sea Change

Laura and friend at JDRF Youth Ambassador Event
Laura hugs a JDRF mascot for luck

When Laura was diagnosed, we were just getting ready for her to move up from playgroup to school. That’s enough change to challenge any family without the complication of serious illness, but hey, when it’s your kid, you deal with it.

Now she’s poised to move up to secondary school. Next week, as her final fling at the village school, she’ll be doing her SATS exams – the tests that the government imposes on every child in Britain at this stage. The school has been preparing the children for SATS since January, and the stress of SATS is bad enough for children (and parents!) who don’t have special health care needs.

But for Laura, she’ll have the added challenge of taking exams while trying to keep her blood sugar level. Stress can have two effects on a diabetic – it can send them very high or very low. Either state is not ideal for sitting exams – it can make you feel faint, drunk, angry, scared, tearful. Or it might have no effect at all. Trouble is, you don’t know how it will affect you till you’re there.

The supposed treat of a class breakfast in school at the start of each examination day adds further complexity. Moving away from her normal breakfast routine adds risk: if we miscalculate her insulin dose to deal with whatever she chooses there for breakfast, it could scupper her blood sugar for during the exam. But we don’t want to stop her from going to the breakfast, because it’s important for her emotional and psychological well-being not to feel different from her classmates – another potential source of distress.

Laid-Back Laura

Laura head and shoulders
Calm as ever

Fortunately Laura is the most laid-back person I know.

“I’m not worried about SATS,” she assured me yesterday. “I think doing tests is quite fun.”

She’ll be fine, I’m sure. She’s bright, she’s thorough, she has a strong  work ethic. She’s not spending the weekend worrying about her SATS – she’s completely absorbed in setting up a Eurovision Song Contest final for her cuddly toys.

Yes, she’s doing fine. But I still wish we could ditch the diabetes, seven years on.

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Click cover for more info

In November, I’ll be launching a paperback of the ebook I published last World Diabetes Day, to raise funds to search for a cure. All proceeds are going to JDRF, the leading charitable funder of Type 1 diabetes research. If you’d like to read the e-book in the meantime, it’s available exclusively via Amazon on Kindle for now, wherever you are in the world. (More info here.) If you’d like to be alerted via email when the paperback is available, please sign up for my mailing list here.