Tom Hanks has type 2 diabetes. He broke the news Monday night while visiting with David Letterman and now there are stories splashed about on the Internet. We've seen this happen before with other celebrities, but this time it feels a bit different. Why?
The Approachable Star
Tom Hanks is beloved by millions. But he has an approachability that makes him seem more like “one of us,” instead of an unreachable "star." While he has millions of dollars and can probably pay someone to help him with his diet and exercise, he appears to be someone who handles those things himself. To me, this is good since other person with diabetes will look at him and say, “If he can do it, so can I.”
Plus, Hanks doesn't look like the negative stereotype of a type 2 diabetic. He made his announcement at a time when he had already lost some weight and was looking healthy and fit. Letterman actually complimented him on his looks and that coaxed the diagnoses out of him. No one is going to look at Tom Hanks and say he deserves this diagnosis or that it wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t so fat and lazy. Hopefully, that will go a long way to dispelling some myths surrounding type 2.
Hanks also did a good job of explaining diabetes; much better than most media outlets. Doesn’t it just get under your skin when the media gets things wrong, confusing type 1 and type 2 diabetes or perpetuating negative stereotypes? Kudos to Hanks who carefully explained the difference between type 1 and type 2.
Where Hanks Could Do Better
While Hanks did a good job of explaining the two types of diabetes, he down-played the seriousness of type 2 by saying "Hey, I don't have Type 1 diabetes! Type 1 diabetes is a really, really serious thing. I don't have that.”
Well, yes, type 1 IS serious, but so is type 2. Out-of-control diabetes, no matter the type, can lead to the same complications.
He also spoke too flippantly about how type 2 can be controlled. He said, "But I just have to eat right, and exercise, and lose weight, and watch what I eat, and I will be fine for the rest of my life.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t simple and those of us already living with diabetes all know that. By making type 2 sound simple to control, he is feeding some of the myths that are hurtful and dangerous.
It should be noted, too, that Hanks doctors might be encouraging those sentiments. He said they told him, “You know those high blood sugar numbers you've been living with since you were 36? Well, you've graduated. You've got type 2 diabetes, young man.” Then, Hanks said they suggested he get back to his high school weight. It's possible to keep type 2 at bay for a long, long time if something is done early. If Hank's doctors had encouraged him to make healthy changes 22 years ago, he might have been able to keep diabetes longer and wouldn't be given such an unrealistic goal now. Higher than normal blood sugars should never be ignored.
Mr. Hanks, I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. No one would wish diabetes on anyone else. But because of your celebrity, you have a unique opportunity here to dispel myths and encourage people to think seriously about their health — NOW. Here’s hoping that you use your powers for good.