New language and imagery for diabetes in South Africa

by Media Xpose

A freely available stock photo library of positive diabetes images may change the way South Africans see people with diabetes.

#LanguageMatters Diabetes in South Africa

South Africa is joining the global #LanguageMatters movement, calling for “a new language for diabetes”. Diabetes Australia, the International Diabetes Federation, and diabetes organisations in the US, UK, Italy, France, India, Costa Rica and Canada have published similar statements, and now it’s South Africa’s turn.

“When I was diagnosed with diabetes 15 years ago, I was told I would be sufferingfrom this disease for the rest of my life,” explains Sweet Life co-founder Bridget McNulty. “I was told I had tokeep my blood sugar in good control, I must not cheat, or be abad diabetic. As apatient, there was a long list of things I should do, a long list ofteststo potentiallyfail.

“Do you see how this language disempowers people with diabetes? How it presents the condition as black and white, a disease to be treated rather than a condition to be managed? That’s why I’m so excited about the #LanguageMatters movement.”

What is #LanguageMatters?

Our language matters. The words we choose, and the way we use them, influence, persuade and affect how people view the world. Words do more than reflect reality: they create reality.

Words are powerful. They can create a culture in which people feel valued, understood, and supported – or one in which people feel misunderstood, undermined, stigmatised, and excluded.

Words can express conscious or unconscious bias. The words used to talk about diabetes affect the physical and emotional health of people living with diabetes. They also affect how people in society view people living with diabetes, or those at risk of developing diabetes.

South African images of people with diabetes

Alongside the words we use being more conscious and empowering, it’s essential to consider the images we use when talking about diabetes. This applies to healthcare settings, the media, social media and general use.

We need to use imagery that is accurate, representative and empowering. If Type 2 diabetes is always referenced alongside images of fast food, it leads to judgement and stigma; and if Type 1 diabetes is only referenced alongside images of needles, it does the same. People with diabetes can live full and healthy lives – and our imagery should represent that.

To make it as easy as possible to use empowering imagery, we have uploaded 150+ positive images of people with diabetes taking medication, checking blood glucose, cooking and eating healthy food, working, chatting with friends and exercising.
These images are free to download and use by anyone, anywhere.

You can find them all at

Time to learn a new language around diabetes

Although communication needs our careful attention, it’s not rocket science, and we can all learn to communicate better about diabetes. The best place to start is with this easy-to-understand #LanguageMatters position statement – specifically written for South Africans, and in collaboration with all the South African diabetes organisations.

Download the position statement at

Want to talk about #LanguageMatters?

Sweet Life co-founder Bridget McNulty has been living with Type 1 diabetes for the last 15 years, and will happily discuss it with you. You can reach her on

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