Skip to main content

Looking at diabetes through the lens of social change

Heather WalkerPeople with diabetes are too familiar with the stereotypes that often haunt them in medical encounters or conversations with friends and family. But Heather Walker, PhD, a social scientist in the University of Utah Medical Group whose dissertation research focused on diabetes identity, wants clinicians to know that people with diabetes are absolutely doing their best.

"People with diabetes identify as change-makers," Walker said. "They aren’t the way most medical literature makes them out to be. They aren’t lazy. They identify as hyper-responsible and proactive."

Walker and colleague Michelle Lichtman, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, published their findings about diabetes, identity, and social change in Qualitative Health Research. Chief among them: "People with diabetes deserve the benefit of the doubt," Walker said.

Historically, research about diabetes identity is focused on compliance. That is, research has been limited by only looking at whether or not identifying as a diabetic influences a person’s willingness to control their diabetes. As a person with diabetes herself, Walker instead wanted to capture the complexities of diabetes identity in an effort to help clinicians understand that people with diabetes are doing their best.

"The friend or uncle or grandparent you’re thinking about right now, yes them. They are giving diabetes everything they have," Walker said. "Even if you think they aren’t, they are. I yearn for a radical shift away from perceiving millions of people with diabetes as lazy and unwilling to put in the work, or as uneducated and stubborn.”

Read more about Walker's research.