Emily Mendenhall on Why We Need to Rethink Diabetes

Two Indian women and a child on diabetes consultation, with three medical personnel on a counter, with forms and a device for measuring the levels of sugar on the blood
Trinity Care Foundation, Diabetes counter on Flickr

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In this text, Emily Mendenhall challenges the idea that diabetes is a “lifestyle disease”, which views individuals as solely responsible for diabetes. Mendenhall argues that diabetes is a product of society, of both global and local factors. “Global factors include commercial targeting of foods that are too fatty, salty, and sweet toward low-income populations who have a limited pool of good food options. Local factors involve experiences of domestic abuse, fear, and social isolation that cause too many stress hormones to be released into the blood stream. These factors can be the most insidious and invisible”.

In her book Rethinking Diabetes, which Mendenhall wrote based on hundreds of interviews with low-income people with diabetes in urban spaces in the United States, India, South Africa, and Kenya, she argues that diabetes differs from place to place. People call diabetes different things, it co-occurs with different social problems and medical conditions, and biologically presents differently. In some contexts, obesity and diabetes are closely linked. In others, the link is less clear. The psychophysiology of oppression might be in part responsible for this, as chronic stress and distress are physiologically linked to insulin resistance.

Read the piece in the Cornell Press website.