“Prediabetic” versus “Person with Prediabetes:” What’s in a Word?

Natalie Stein
December 7, 2020
“Prediabetic” versus “Person with Prediabetes:” What’s in a Word?

For years, the prediabetes and diabetes communities have been grappling over the issue of how to refer to individuals with prediabetes and diabetes. While some members of the public and medical communities alike often use the terms “prediabetic” and “diabetic,” many others prefer to use terms such as “living with prediabetes,” “has prediabetes,” or “person with diabetes,” or “PWD.”

With 1 in 3 American adults having high blood sugar in the prediabetic range, and another 1 in 8 with blood sugar levels in the diabetic range, the question of how to refer to such patients affects nearly 100 million Americans. Which term should you use, and why? Here’s our take.

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At Issue: Is “-ic” a Label?

The question is whether calling people “prediabetic” or “diabetic” may feel like it is an attempt to define them by their health conditions. This could have some potential problems.

  • Making patients feel as though they, as people, are nothing more than their health condition.
  • Making patients feel as though they have no control over their health condition.
  • Encouraging others to believe that those with the condition somehow deserve it or are lesser for having it.

Opponents of the terms suggest using terms such as “person with prediabetes” or “patient with diabetes.” These terms, they argue, avoid labeling and limiting people. Instead of being “prediabetic,” for example, someone could have brown hair, live in Cleveland, have two kids, and be living with prediabetes.

When to Use “Prediabetic” and “Diabetic”

There are times when “prediabetic” and “diabetic” can be appropriate. These times tend to be when labeling things, and not people. For example, someone with prediabetes has blood sugar levels that are in the “prediabetic range” and may lose weight and lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes by following a “prediabetic diet.

Similarly, someone with diabetes has blood glucose levels in the “diabetic range.” If she does not control blood sugar levels, she will be at risk for complications of diabetes, such as “diabetic neuropathy,” “diabetic retinopathy,” and “diabetic ketoacidosis.” A diabetes management plan may include a “diabetic diet” using “diabetic recipes” and “diabetic food or carbohydrate exchanges.”

Survey Says…No Difference!

Is it true that using “prediabetic” and “diabetic” has negative effects on people’s perceptions and condition management? It may not be. Research from 2013 used surveys to look at the use of “a diabetic” versus “a person with diabetes.” [1]

They found no difference in the way people with diabetes perceived their condition or ability to manage it. The study also found no difference in how people without diabetes perceived people with diabetes, regardless of which term was used.

But Is the Survey Always Right?

Are the results of this study definitely correct, and do they apply to everyone? Some experts, such as certain Certified Diabetes Educators (CDE), think it is better to err on the side of caution [2, 3]. Though “diabetic” may not have been proven to be harmful, they argue, there is not enough information to be certain. It could, they say, still be offensive to some people.

Free Health Kit to Lower Your Risk of Diabetes

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Height 64
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Lark Chooses “Person with Prediabetes”

Lark is committed to being an inclusive program that empowers people to live the healthiest lives that they can. Lark recognizes the entire person and the importance of managing health conditions within the context of the person’s lifestyle. 

Lark believes that using terms such as, “person with prediabetes,” and, “living with diabetes,” shows respect for all people, with or without chronic conditions. Lark chooses not to call people “prediabetic” or “diabetic.” We hope that this distinction and our personalized coaching will allow Lark’s respect, expertise, and good intentions to shine through.

Written by Natalie Stein on December 7, 2020
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