Dear Healthcare Professionals, My Diabetes Inklings

Health Promotion Campaign or Marketing Grab?

Whilst taking a break from my literature review, I came across the FebFast fundraising campaign to tackle youth addiction. Initially, they focused on giving up alcohol for the month of February to raise funds. The highly successful campaign even won them a well-deserved Health Promotion Award in 2013. Sadly, in 2015, their ‘health promotion’ antics have gone wild as they branched out to include a junk food, social media or sugar ‘detox’. While I’m all for encouraging people to avoid junk food and good luck to those avoiding social media, I have a massive problem with the sugar part of it.

Never mind that they used the word detox – a term associated with unhealthy eating behaviours and fad diets. Never mind that they had advertisements from their major sponsor of Natvia, a sugar alternative, plastered on their FebFast Sugar landing page. But it was the way FebFast presented the information about sugar and diabetes that ticked me off.

First, let’s have a look at their ‘rules’. Any foods with more that 5g of sugar per 100g is banned. Most foods we eat contain sugar in various forms. Milk contains sugar in the form of lactose. No lattes for you in February! Fruit contains sugar, mostly in the form of fructose. Fruits are naturally high in sugars and are great snack in small portions, but none of that for you! Certain vegetables also contain carbohydrates, which gets broken down into glucose. Goodbye pumpkin or sweet potato! Even raw cashews contain 5.5g of sugar per 100g! Forget that all of these foods are important for a healthy and balanced diet. Health promotion at its best, it seems.

If that doesn’t tarnish the good work that health promotion is meant to do, check out this infographic on why going on a ‘sugar detox’ is good for you.

Good use of misrepresenting data guys. A for effort.
Good example of how not to use evidence based data.

Seeing the mass misrepresentation of diabetes and sugar in one infographic made my blood boil. Particularly after having just trawled through research on the impact of media inaccuracies fueling diabetes-related stigma. Stigma affects everyone with diabetes, no matter the type. People with type 1 diabetes get blamed for their bodies raging a war on their pancreas. People with type 2 diabetes get blamed for bringing on their diabetes, despite emerging evidence that genetic plays an important role in the development of this condition. For an organisation that claims to aim at improving the ‘personal health of all Australians, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged youth experiencing alcohol, drug and mental health issues’, they seem to be really taking mental health into account here by contributing to diabetes stigma.

This was my response to them:

Hi,

From a health promotion perspective, I appreciate you are trying to get people to limit the about of added sugars in their diets. Yet, your infographics does not distinguish this clearly and even links consumption of sugar to the development of diabetes.

As a dietitian and a person with type 1 diabetes, I find this extremely upsetting. Someone who knows the difference between the different types of diabetes would know that you meant T2DM. Even then, many factors affect the development of T2DM, such as genetics, not just lifestyle choices. But not everyone knows this. This is important because everyone living with diabetes will suffer the consequences of the stigma you are promoting through your infographic and the message that sugar causes diabetes. Research has shown that this stigma severely affects quality of life in some people with diabetes. People with diabetes are already at a higher risk of developing depression, negative stigma and stereotyping like your campaign just fuels it.

Additionally, you don’t mention that sugar is found in most foods. So if a person were to go on a sugar fast, the only things they would be able to eat are meat, water and certain vegetables. This, together with the notion of a ‘detox’ does not promote healthy eating habits. Emerging research has demonstrated that the rise of ‘clean eating’ and ‘detox diets’ are giving rise to a new eating disorder called orthorexia.

With the amount of informational inaccuracies and the blatant manipulation of evidence based research, your FebFast Sugar campaign is no longer a health promotion campaign but a clear strategy to boost Natvia sales instead.

Regards,
Ashley Ng (APD)

We’re now approaching the third working day since I’ve sent this and have yet to receive a response. If this were another sensationalised news story in the Herald Sun by an ignorant reporter who didn’t know better, I may have let it slide. But as a ‘health promotion’ campaign, I simply cannot let this one go.

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