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What’s the Story Behind Diabetes Awareness Month?

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What's the Story Behind Diabetes Awareness Month?

Why November is associated with diabetes awareness — and how you can get involved

The observance has been around for decades, but events and awareness campaigns have taken off more recently.

As you’ll know by the end of this sentence if you didn’t already, November is Diabetes Awareness Month in the United States. It’s an opportunity for diabetes-oriented organizations to highlight what they do, communicate the impact diabetes has on people across the country, and urge people to get tested and treated for diabetes.

But it wasn’t always this way. When it first began, Diabetes Awareness Month received far less attention from any group — including the one that started it. Over the years, more and more organizations have climbed on board with more activities. Here’s a brief history of how November came to be associated with diabetes awareness, and more importantly, how you can get involved with raising awareness in November and beyond.

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From humble origins to a mass movement

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) first declared November National Diabetes Awareness Month in 1975. At first, pretty much no other groups took notice.

But starting in the early 1980s, that began to change, with President Ronald Reagan proclaiming November 1981 to be National Diabetes Month. Since then, many different Congresses and presidents have made similar proclamations, with the ADA taking the lead in awareness activities.

The ADA began using the phrase American Diabetes Month for its own activities in 1997, but other groups still call it National Diabetes Month or Diabetes Awareness Month.

And in 1991, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) began designating Nov. 14 as World Diabetes Day, which became an official United Nations International Day in 2006. That means for at least one day in November, over 1 billion people in at least 160 countries see messages related to diabetes awareness.

Why November? Nov. 14 is the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist and doctor who co-discovered insulin in 1921 with his colleague, Charles Best.

Diabetes Awareness Month: what’s happening in 2021

Different organizations have different goals and themes for diabetes awareness in 2021.

For World Diabetes Day, the theme in 2021-2023 is “Access to Diabetes Care,” to highlight the barriers to medicines, technologies, support, and care that millions of people with diabetes around the world face.

The IDF encourages people to wear blue for diabetes awareness and promote the symbol for World Diabetes Day, an open blue circle. The group also offers an online diabetes risk assessment test and encourages people to share their results on social media with the hashtag #Test2Prevent.

In the United States, the biggest awareness campaign in November will come from the ADA. As it has in the past, the group is holding events and putting out digital ads and social media posts to highlight the impact of diabetes in the United States and the importance of knowing your risk, getting tested, and treating your diabetes.

The ADA is offering many different ways to get involved, from sharing images and messages on social media to taking its own diabetes risk assessment test. During November, you can find these resources by visiting the ADA homepage.

In the past, the ADA has worked hard during November to communicate how diabetes affects the lives of millions of people, according to Lisa White, the group’s managing director of marketing strategy. But this year, she says, the group wants to take that message further and emphasize not just how diabetes affects people but also the importance of taking action.

“What we’re trying to normalize is to have people assess their risk, know their risk, and then do something about it,” says White. That means taking a risk assessment test and, if it shows that you’re at an increased risk for diabetes, following up with a diagnostic test such as HbA1c.

“We don’t want to just stop at awareness,” White emphasizes. “We want people to really know the information, know the resources and tools.”

Part of that, White says, is communicating that taking charge of your health is an ongoing process. Monitoring your risk for diabetes, or your diabetes control if you have it, should be “almost as normal as taking your blood pressure.”

Much like January is for other resolutions, White says that November can be an opportunity for people to change their behavior as it relates to diabetes screening and management.

“It’s about empowering them to do more,” she notes. “We are here for them when they’re ready.” 

Want to learn more about Diabetes Awareness Month? Read “Ten Ways to Observe National Diabetes Month.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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