Candy-Carrying Crisis

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A few months ago here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we discussed the case of a man with Type 2 diabetes who was kicked out of a movie theater (with a police escort, no less) for bringing in some strawberries he had bought outside the theater. While that situation had a few troubling aspects — the man was denied a refund for his ticket, and he hadn’t even opened the strawberry container before he was escorted away — the discussion focused on when, if ever, it is appropriate to allow people with medical conditions to bring their own food into establishments where food is sold. Many people (including the theater’s owner, when asked after the incident) hold the view that in this case, the man should have been allowed to bring in the strawberries because none of the food sold in the theater was “diabetes-friendly.” There is no disputing, however, that the strawberries were intended only as a snack, not as any medically necessary treatment.

The latest case of someone with diabetes being kicked out of a movie theater appears to be different in nature, even though the reasons offered by the movie theater were the same. As described in an ABC News article, 16-year-old Ben Weidner was barred from entering a drive-in movie theater in New Jersey for attempting to bring in a backpack containing diabetes supplies, including insulin, an epinephrine pen, a juice box, and candy. Weidner, who has Type 1 diabetes, was told that no outside food or drink was allowed inside, with no exceptions. Unlike the man who brought strawberries into the movie theater, Weidner apparently had no intent to actually drink the juice or eat the candy; they were intended as emergency backup for treating hypoglycemia (low blood glucose). If not treated with food or drink to raise the blood glucose glucose level, hypoglycemia can lead to loss of consciousness — a medical emergency — and even coma or death.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this case is that the drive-in theater’s owner is a pediatrician — and stands by his staff’s decision to deny entry to the teen. When asked by a local television station about the no-food policy, the owner replied, “Sorry your kid has an affliction but, you know, what can I tell you […] no food, no drink, bottom line.” He noted that the theater’s concession stand sells several diabetes-friendly foods and expressed concern that people might lie about having diabetes if he relaxed the policy. As a medical doctor, he was presumably aware — or should have been — that people with diabetes often carry candy, juice, or glucose tablets to treat potential hypoglycemia, and not just for snacking.

What do you think — is there an important difference between a movie theater banning strawberries as a diabetes-friendly snack, and banning candy or juice for treating hypoglycemia? Should public establishments be required to allow people with diabetes to carry candy or juice as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act? Should this theater owner (and pediatrician) face a boycott or a lawsuit, or are those measures too extreme? Leave a comment below!

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