Ethics in media: Diabulimia

14 11 2008

The news is pumping out stories in response to a report “Insulin Misuse for Weight Loss” that claims diabetics have started skipping insulin shots in order to get thin.

I found the story through a google feed at

I tried to find the report itself, but Google is swamped by diabetes news stories at the moment. I was initially perplexed, diabetes is linked to obesity, how can avoiding treatment cause weight-loss? Of course, obesity is only linked to type II (or late-onset) diabetes – which is not treated with injections – type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes is not linked to obesity.

But explanations like this were not very prevalent in the media. When reporting on dangerous self harm behaviour, the media needs to maintain its head and consider the ethical implications of what they write. There is a need to balance their responsibility to inform the public with another social responsibility not to cause further harm. By reporting on such behaviour, and giving in notoriety, can they actually give it some sort of credibility and encourage people to try it out? Ensuring that concepts are explained fully, and are provided in context goes a long way to help this.

Some articles did not even explain the consequences of avoiding injections – which include systemic damage, blindness, coma and death. I found the term “Diabulimia” at this slightly hysteric article. But past the hype, the article actually attempted to explain the rational behind this behaviour. In order to work your body already has to be in a pretty bad state, as it involves dehydration (the weight lost is from water) and muscle catabolism (the wieght lost is from muscle). You are in serious trouble if your body is breaking down muscle for your energy needs.

But I want to highlight this paragraph in the article:

Many people believe word is spreading via internet message boards and chat rooms, where existing diabulimics are encouraging more and more women to lose weight by not taking their required insulin doses. Although the practise of losing weight by skipping insulin injections in not a new one, it seems to have grown out of control with the advent of the internet.

Isn’t the writer herself spreading the story on the internet herself? Are ‘news’ articles and opinion pieces (or even shoddy blog entries) on dangerous emerging social disorders part of the problem? How do you make the difference between raising awareness and excacerbating the issue?

Diabetes Australia is the national peak body for information and support services about diabetes mellitus.




2 responses

15 11 2008

Nice site. I am really looking to lose weight. I just cant seem to get started.
What do you suggest as the best diet program out there?

15 11 2008

If you are dieting with the goal of “losing weight” you have hit your first problem.

Dieting should about maximising nutrition and health. For quite a lot of people this may involve weight loss, but it may also require weight fluctuation, and indeed weight gain.

That said, I think I good simple dieting plan has been developed by the CSIRO (in cooperation with Meat and Livestock Australi), that certainly ticks the right boxes in health management, but may bring in ethical concerns.

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