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Theresa May speaking up about diabetes helps break stigma

Former prime minister Theresa May has spoken about using jelly babies to manage her diabetes during her time in office. Discussing her condition on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this week, Lady May confessed the sweet treats were her “go to” when she felt her blood sugars dropping during meetings. We caught up with Professor Ketan Dhatariya, member of the Royal Society of Medicine Endocrinology and Diabetes Section Council, about her comments. 

Professor Dhatariya, Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: 

High-profile people should be applauded for speaking publicly about their condition as we need to break the stigma around diabetes. 

People sometimes forget that there are two types of diabetes. Type 1, which requires insulin from the time of diagnosis to manage, and type 2, which used to be seen most often in older people, but is now commonly associated with people who are under 40 living overweight or obesity.  

Professor Dhatariya

While there is a small genetic component to a person’s likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes, this is greater with type 2. There’s a huge misconception that people with diabetes are to blame for their condition. But it’s not the fault of the person living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, just as it is not always a person’s fault that they are overweight or obese – often, it’s down to their genetic make-up. This is why it’s good to see people like Theresa May speak out and help break the negative associations for those living with the condition. 

As for jelly babies: Lady May is absolutely right to use them to manage her diabetes. People with type 1 are always on insulin to control their blood sugars, and about a third of those with type 2 are as well. If they miscalculate and get their insulin dose wrong compared to their activity levels of carbohydrate intake, their blood sugars can drop very fast, so it’s essential they treat this with glucose, a sugar that can be quickly absorbed by the gut in order to enter into the blood stream as soon as possible. While this can be done by taking glucose tablets, some people find them quite unpalatable. Jelly babies are just as effective and taste much better – three or four being the recommended dosage. Because of this we do advise carrying jelly babies to treat low blood glucose concentrations. This should then be followed by some slowly absorbed carbohydrates like a banana. 

Not any old sugary treat will do though. Jelly babies work because they contain glucose without fat. Chocolate, for example, contains fat as well as sugar, and fat slows down the gut, and so the absorption of sugar, so we wouldn’t advise this. Stick with the jelly babies! 

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