Earlier this week, one company’s disgusting social media blunder ignited fierce and passionate responses from many, including those in the diabetes community. Sure, CrossFit didn’t use sound judgment or tact when making its Twitter proclamation. Later, it clarified that the meme was referencing type 2 diabetes—as though somehow that made its content more acceptable.
In reading the Twitter thread and other news articles about the debacle, it seems to me that the primary issue taken with the CrossFit meme—aside from its repugnant tone—was that folks staunchly pronounced its implication of sugar causing type 2 diabetes as false, misleading, and irresponsible.
There is a clear difference between causation and correlation, of course. But the ardent assertion that “sugar does not cause (type 2) diabetes” seems to me to be, well, without clear evidence. Really, are we absolutely certain that there is no causal link at all between excessive sugar consumption and the development of type 2 diabetes? None?
The whole debate leads me to wonder about a bigger question, though. This is less about CrossFit and more about…us. Why are we, as a society, so fiercely opposed to having open conversation about the root variables that lead to our most debilitating modern-day diseases?
For me, my understanding gains traction in the context of this idea. Our society is one fueled by a blame-the-individual perspective. It is a pervasive belief, extending through generations, and it permeates nearly every aspect of our lives. Women ask to be raped when they wear short skirts. Folks with dyslexia struggle to read because they don’t try hard enough. Poor people remain poor because they don’t work hard enough. Immigrants don’t belong here because they drain the system and contribute nothing meaningful. In the context of health-related issues, the blame-the-individual belief seems to be most evident in reference to our most prevalent modern-day diseases, including type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease. Folks with lung cancer shouldn’t be surprised they got sick, after smoking two packs a day for 30 years. People develop type 2 diabetes because they eat too many cookies and sit on their asses watching reality TV shows all day. That dude’s heart attack happened because he ate butter on his toast every morning of his adult life.
Now, it might seem like blame-the-individual thinking is a simple extension of a personal characteristic we dearly prize: acceptance of responsibility for one’s choices and life outcomes. But in my observation, blame-the-individual thinking has nothing to do with personal responsibility at all. Instead, the blame-the-individual belief allows us to exonerate ourselves from the responsibility we have to each other: to lift each other up, to care for and treat each other with dignity, and to work together to improve the quality of everyone’s lives. When we exonerate ourselves from this responsibility to the well-being of everyone, we pave an easy path toward complacency and even ignorance, and we become staunchly resistant to considering difficult issues with depth of thought and commitment to action.
You see, if type 2 diabetes is not my problem—it’s yours—then I don’t have to think about why people are facing epidemic levels of this disease. Since it’s not my problem, I can ignore increasingly robust research findings that implicate the role of excessive sugar consumption in systemic inflammation—something considered to be the core root cause of most modern-day diseases. I don’t need to know this information, because it doesn’t affect me. I don’t have to engage in thoughtful conversation about the issue, and I can cling onto old beliefs whose underpinnings are being eroded by current research.
But what if type 2 diabetes is my problem? After all, I’m the one that cause it to happen to me through my terrible lifestyle choices and laziness. Since it’s my problem—and not yours— I’m expected to solve it by myself, under a shroud of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. I’m expected to improve my own health—after all, I’m personally responsible for it—but alone and only through the use of the bootstrap mentality, because my society won’t accept the collective responsibility to investigate, strategize and mobilize to help the millions of people in my situation.
When we allow ourselves to avoid hard conversations about lightning rod topics like the role of excessive sugar consumption in the development of modern-day diseases, we only perpetuate misinformation and offensive assumptions—the very same allegations cast onto CrossFit in the wake of its offensive meme.