02 September 2007

Crap Journalism

A few days ago the Australian Government's Institute for Health and Welfare released the results of a study into diabetes in Australia, stating that the RATE of Type 1 Diabetes has risen from 19 in every 100,000 children, to 23, over the period of 2000 - 2005. The ABC report, while brief, was accurate and reasonable.

In fact, if you look at the actual report put out by the AIHW, it's clear that the study has only looked at people with diabetes who need insulin - so all Type 1s, but only a small subsection of those with Type 2 or Gestational Diabetes - as "people who use insulin" is what the National Diabetes Register records. (Photo : NovoFine needles which Dotter uses for her insulin injections - she uses 4 or 5 a day.)

However, The Daily Telegraph (never a bastion of good reporting), really went to town. I'm not including a direct link because - after what must have been an avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from parents and children with Type 1 Diabetes, the article has just been taken offline. These are the pertinent sentences (in blue) :

Diabetes mark of a lazy nation
August 31, 2007 12:00am

AUSTRALIA has become a nation of sloths with most people either eating poorly or exercising inadequately, a report has found.

More alarming is that almost 1000 children a year are developing type 1 diabetes - a disease which can be caused by overeating.

OMG, how WRONG can you be?!! This sentence was deeply upsetting to all the families I know who are living with type 1 diabetes - as well as us - just what we need - let's foster more misunderstanding and 'blame-ism' for us all! The cause of Type 1 isn't fully understood, but it is NOT related to your activity levels, weight, what you eat, and in 80% of cases there isn't a family history of diabetes either.

A study by Sydney University of more than 16,000 Australians has painted a grim picture of a slothful, unhealthy nation falling short of its recommendations for exercise and nutrition.

That's us guys, apparently - you feeling slothful and unhealthy?


An alarming report released today by the Federal Government also highlights the national diabetes epidemic which is doubling every 10 years.

It's not stated whether this refers to Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes... With Type 1, a rate change from 19 to 23 in 100,000 isn't a doubling. In fact, the variance for each number overlaps, so it's a barely statistically significant difference, within error. I'm assuming they're bunching Type 1 and 2 in together (even though they're quite different diseases).

Between 2000 and 2005 more than 6000 children aged under 14 years developed type 1 diabetes - a condition which requires daily insulin injections.

The 'reporter' doesn't understand RATES of change - just putting in a number like this (6,000 children) doesn't provide any evidence of things worsening or changing - how many kids got Type 1 before 2000? Saying it's gone from 19 in 100,000 children to 23 in 100,000 is actually informative and meaningful. This also highlights that while rates are increasing, it's hardly an epidemic (but it's such an exciting word, don't you think? Makes us all feel worse and more scared, that's for sure.)

The report, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, also revealed more than 1000 teenagers developed type 2 diabetes - caused by lifestyle - over the five years.

The report's author Anne-Marie Waters said the rate of new cases among children was alarming.

"No one knows exactly why that is happening," she said. "Type 1 diabetes does not just develop in childhood. It can arise at any age." There are 750,000 Australians who have diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes - which is incurable - is caused when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin.

WRONG - Type 1 is an autoimmune disease where the body destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, and can no longer produce ANY insulin at all.

Doctors are warning parents to restrict the amount of junk food children eat which can contribute to the life-threatening disease.

This is what I sent to the newspaper :

This article is a dreadful piece of science 'reporting' - please get your facts right!

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease which can come on suddenly and is NOT related to 'lifestyle'. My lively 16 year old daughter certainly didn't bring this awful disease on herself.

I also have objections to labelling everyone with Type 2 Diabetes (quite a different disease from Type 1) as being lazy and overweight - it is unnecessarily pejorative. There are age, environmental, and genetic contributing factors in Type 2 Diabetes as well; not everyone who gets it is overweight or eats badly.

People struggling to live pro-actively with these life-threatening conditions do NOT need this sort of inaccurate and insulting reporting, which only adds to the negative 'blame-ism' and lack of understanding which is rife in our society.

Please correct this article. Thank you.

The other T1 D parents and I are watching the Australian media with interest ... the article has been reported to Mediawatch, and it will be interesting to see if The Daily Telegraph prints an apology or a correction... Grrrrrrr.


  1. They called those with diabetes slothful - how about their research and reporting? Not only is it lazy and unprofessional to not even bother researching the facts (they clearly just grabbed the most sensationalist sentences out of the press release and exec summary), but it is soooo typically Tele/tabloid to go off on such an alarmist finger-pointing exercise. Dog-whistle journalism, for which they have a long and well-established track-record.

    If that kind of critism makes me a chardy-swilling latte-lefty, then thats fine - just make mine skinny, and dont scale the milk, barrista!

  2. Ooooh, they're hopeless aren't they!!!

    Interestingly (but sort of unrelated) I read the other day that there has been an increase in diagnosis of type 1 in chldren this winter on account of the nasty flu going around, since that is one of the things that can trigger it.

    Its all so much more complicated than what is presented in the media!

  3. Just another example of why I don't read the Daily Telegraph!! I'll have a latte with Georgie!

  4. According to our government, Americans are also slothful and lazy and irresponsible because diabetes is on the rise here as well. Instead of saying, hey we have a problem here, let's figure out why and how to solve it, the media picks up on the good bits and suddenly "It's epidemic" and people feel bad and ashamed instead of seeking help. I see it in our mental health community every day.

  5. Well done for calling them on this piece of junk 'science'. Similar thing happened to our friends' 12 year old super active and athletic boy! The more correct information people have, the better!
    BTW did you hear the report about Type2 and Blood pressure - interesting links in health aren't there - seems like we need to treat the whole person........

  6. How frustrating! Nothing like perpetuating myths instead of helpfully correcting them with facts! It seems, here, at least, to have become such an epidemic WITHOUT people actually knowing much about it. It's terrible!

  7. wow, as a scientist myself this was an educating post on how our data and our articles can be misinterpreted. I really hope that they give a public apology. At least they removed the article.

  8. See, that's why I don't read the Tele. Or watch Current Affair. Misreporting by the media makes me SO mad, especially when such excellent research and analysis has been done by the scientists.

    Good on you for standing up to those idiots who call themselves journalists!

  9. Go get 'em, Jejune! Good on you! Kick butts and take names!

  10. I'm late to this one but yeah, kind of what we've come to expect from the tele. Doesn't make it right though. Idiots. Excellent response jejune.

  11. Totally erroneous on so many levels. Let's just blame the fat people shall we - so much easier than addressing the REAL issues!

    Good on you for taking the newspaper to task.

  12. there needs to be a governing body that punishes things like this..


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