What We’re Reading: Diabetes Mess-ups In The Media

For many people without diabetes, knowledge of the condition doesn’t extend far beyond an awareness that it has something to do with levels of sugar in the blood. Aspects of self-care that may be routine to someone who has diabetes, such as checking one’s blood glucose level or using an insulin pump, can be completely alien to people who are unfamiliar with it, including members of the media.

This was highlighted in a recent article in The New York Times. In the piece “For Uninsured Young Adults, Do-It-Yourself Healthcare,” about the measures taken by young people lacking health insurance, the following passage appears:


“When Robert Voris last had health insurance, in 2007, he stockpiled insulin pumps, which are inserted under the skin to constantly monitor blood-sugar levels and administer the drug accordingly. He said the tubing for the pump costs $900 a month, so lately he has instead been injecting insulin with a syringe.”

Need we say more?

And The New York Times is not the only news media outlet that has published misinformation about insulin pumps. A recent piece in The Mercury News of San Jose made the assertion that “Many diabetic children use an insulin pump, which automatically releases the right amount of insulin.”

Have you come across similar examples of inaccurate information about diabetes or diabetes management in the media? What do you think is the best way to educate mainstream journalists about diabetes to ensure that accurate information is shared with the public? Let us know with a comment below.

This blog entry was written by Diane Fennell, Associate Editor of Diabetes Self-Management magazine.

  • emily

    Thanks for setting the record straight!


  • Xa

    AMEN. It is SO frustrating to read incomplete, misleading, and/or just-plain-wrong information in the news about diabetes. Part of the problem is that inaccurate information is coming from general practitioners who are themselves inadequately educated about diabetes. Another huge part of the problem is that Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are so often conflated. I think that the solution lies in the development and widespread adoption of more stringent journalistic standards for health and disease reporting; I have no idea how that could be accomplished since I’m not a journalist myself, and have no familiarity with the journalism industry. I suspect that it would require a large number of public health advocates and doctors to state the case for why such misinformation is harmful to individuals and the public at large… Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of doctors and public health professionals are themselves misinformed because they rely on those same mainstream sources for information to a greater extent than they are willing to admit.

  • ktt408

    I’m confused. Can you please explain in what way the information is wrong? I don’t use an insulin pump. They don’t measure glucose, they just pump in the insulin?

  • Tara Dairman, Web Editor

    Hi ktt408,

    Yes, insulin pumps don’t measure blood glucose, and they don’t automatically release the right amount of insulin. Also, the pumps themselves aren’t inserted under the skin (a pump is about the size of a beeper–infusion sets are inserted under the skin and connected to the pump by tubing in most cases), and tubing alone would never cost $900 a month.

    To learn more about how insulin pumps work, follow the “insulin pump” link in the text above, which will take you to our Diabetes Definition of the term.