Type 2 Diabetes and Past Trauma: Making the Connection the WHO Ignores

Last week the WHO released a report on diabetes which mentioned that there has been nearly a "four-fold increase in diabetes cases in the last twenty-five years".  The article goes on to say that the WHO has called for "stepped-up measures to reduce risk factors and improve treatment and care,".  The Director-General of the WHO goes on to say that, "we need to rethink out daily lives; to eat healthily; be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain,". Seems reasonable, doesn't it? We know that 35% of Americans are obese. And in North Carolina that number jumps to 65%. We also know that certain health conditions like Type 2 diabetes are related to obesity. So Dr. Chan's advice feels "right." Except it's not.

We cannot talk about diabetes, especially in women, without talking about past trauma.  67,000 women were assessed in a 2001 Nurses' Health Study to examine the possible connection between early abuse and Type 2 Diabetes. 34% were discovered to be child sexual abuse survivors; 54% were physical abuse survivors. The researchers concluded that yes, "moderate to severe physical and sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence" have an excess risk of Type 2 diabetes. This is just one study which focused on women but the results cannot be ignored...or not mentioned as a possible reason for Type 2 diabetes increase. 

 Healthcare professionals must wake up & smell the coffee when it comes to trauma and diabetes.

Healthcare professionals must wake up & smell the coffee when it comes to trauma and diabetes.

It is too easy to blame fast food, soda and poor eating choices on the increase in Type 2 diabetes. Kimberly Goodson, Type 1 Diabetic and health coach agrees, "Contrary to what this article states, there is more to the epidemic than the need to "eat less and exercise more." What about stress? depression? Our health is more than diet and exercise. Our health is our livelihood! It's relationships, emotions, environments, personal and professional development." Our health is our livelihood. So I cannot accept blaming women for a chronic health condition. But that's not only counter-productive and alienating but short-sighted. Do we blame girls for the abuse that they suffered? No. Then we cannot blame those same girls as women.

Healthcare professionals MUST be better informed and also ask better questions. Providers need to take a history in a way that is trauma-informed not just ask "do you feel safe at home?" or "have you ever been raped?". I might be feel safe at home NOW but what if I didn't feel safe as a small child and that's likely impacted my health in more ways than one...which I could tell you about if I felt safe enough to do so with you. It's amazing the answers you get when you let go of what you think you know and actually listen (h/t Ann Cuddy's new book Presence for this pithy gem).

We need to trust that women actually know themselves pretty well. Just like all new moms know "breast is best" when it comes to feeding baby, "even" overweight women know that they should exercise more and eat better. Women aren't stupid; they need compassion, support and a trauma-informed provider that they feel safe with to help with their long-term health and wellness, including any healing work. So advising women to "rethink their daily lives" as Dr. Chan says in the article is ignorant and insensitive. Instead, we must acknowledge that past trauma stays in our bodies and changes our bodies. And use that knowledge as a jumping off point, not finger wagging and blaming.