I woke up (at 4am thanks to a hypo, but that’s another story all together) and scrolled through a variety of social media feeds and, because I seem to follow a lot of diabetes-related pages and people, was bombarded with the below. And so, these are my very early morning musings, a stream of consciousness mess, the logic and rationality of which is most likely influenced by low blood sugar. (The typos, however, are all mine.) 

So, let me begin by saying that this is important work – of course it is. The DiRECT trial has really put the idea of diabetes remission on the research agenda, encouraging further research into the issue, provided another potential diabetes treatment option for people with type 2 diabetes, and supporting people with type 2 diabetes looking at this way of managing their diabetes. Choice. It’s a good thing!

Today we have some follow up data (after the initial two years of the trial), providing updates on how research participants are going. Again. It’s important research, and it is helping increase knowledge and understanding of type 2 diabetes. Good stuff!

But one of the things I am all about is accuracy in reporting and this, my friends, isn’t it.

I wasn’t going to even touch the heading of the article, because surely the inaccuracy of it doesn’t need highlighting at all, but let’s go there anyone. The DiRECT trial is researching people with type 2 diabetes, and it probably would be good to mention that. I guess that nugget is in the sub-heading, but it might be good to not relegate it there. 

But let’s look at that sub-heading. ‘Stay free of symptoms’ is an interesting thing to highlight when we know that in many cases, people with undiagnosed T2D don’t have any symptoms anyway. Surely focusing on what it means in terms of day-to-day life with diabetes (i.e. medication, monitoring requirements, daily burden of ‘doing diabetes’, frequency of HCP visits) would be more meaningful. 

Back to the heading and we have the word reverse which is pretty much incorrect in all ways possible. The word they’re looking for is remission. Why? Because even if the result from those in the study is that they don’t require diabetes meds, and their glucose levels are back in range, they still do have diabetes. 

I’m not a statistics person. Data hurts my head and numbers make me cry, and I get the complete and utter irony of saying that considering that I live with a condition that depends on me understanding data and numbers, but now is not the time to come at me and my 2.9mmol/l self. Please and thank you. 

But there is a number in this research that seems to be jumping out at me and it’s this number: 23%. Let me clarify (this is from the Diabetes UK press release): 23% of participants who were in remission from type 2 diabetes at two years in the original trial remained in remission at five years. 

It’s important to also point out that this isn’t 23% of the total people who started in the DiRECT trial five years ago – not all participants were in remission after two years. At two years, 36% remained in remission. Or 53 out of the original 149 research participants in the intervention group (plus a additional 5 people in the control group).

So that 23% is of 58 people who remain in remission now at five years. That’s 13 people. Or about 8% of the starting number. That’s a very different story to what is being presented in news stories, media releases and cross socials today, isn’t it?

And that matters. Big time. Because there is real danger that many people will read the media reports today and in their minds that will mean that remission from type 2 diabetes is a far more likely outcome than reality and is the likely outcome for everyone. 

I’m not here to argue whether remission is a thing or not – it is. FOR SOME PEOPLE with type 2 diabetes. Adding pieces to help understanding of the giant puzzle that is diabetes is brilliant for everyone. Research helps us do that. Sharing that research so that people living with diabetes better understand the options available and learn more about how our particular brand of diabetes works is gold!  

But I am here to argue that publishing grand sweeping statements about how to ‘reverse’ type 2 diabetes, or telling only part of the story about the research, without the necessary nuance, is inaccurate and will further stigmatise type 2 diabetes and those living with it, especially those who are not able to achieve remission of their condition. The very idea that they could be made to feel that they are not trying hard enough or that they have failed is not being sensationalist. 

The stigma associated with type 2 diabetes is considerable and everyone has a responsibility to making it better and not add to it. And surely an even heavier burden of that should fall to those who are working in diabetes. If my 4am, glucose-starved brain is able to grasp how stigmatising something like this could be to people with type 2 diabetes, then it should be glaringly obvious to anyone who has even a passing interest in the condition.