(My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)
When, like a less powerful cousin of the Grim Reaper, flu stalked the village before Christmas, I was one of its victims. The first half of December passed me by in a blur.
It’s only when you’re on the mend from a nasty bug that you realise how poorly you’ve been, and what bad decisions you’ve made while unwell, e.g. being fobbed off with an unnecessary prescription for penicillin by the GP’s triage system. Continue reading “Flu Fury”→
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
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:
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
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)
A bit of a rant about sensationalist reporting of the latest diabetes research today
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
My Book Launch in aid of JDRF
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.