Monday, April 11, 2011

A Second Letter to Reader's Digest: You Don't Get It.

[Read part one here:]

To the Editor(s) of Reader's Digest:

Last week, I was disappointed to learn about your upcoming issue of "Reversing Diabetes", and wrote you an open letter and an email letting you know why. In fact, you'll find several posts to the same tune around the internet now - which I linked for you in my post last week.

But now, I've transitioned from "disappointed" to "angry".

Kelly Kunik of Diabetesaliciousness (and a super-star of our diabetes online community) got a hold of Karen Reynolds, the "Publicity Curator" at your publication last week. And after their exchange (which everyone needs to go read), someone from your company left this comment on her blog post in response to the concerns she expressed:
Anonymous said...

We know that you are concerned with the title of our publication Reverse Diabetes. This term, however, is widely used throughout the healthcare and health-journalism communities, not solely by Reader's Digest. Please be assured that we are committed to the same cause: to help the millions of Americans struggling with the disease. We, of course, respect your right to differ with our approach, but we know with complete certainty that we have helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their condition by using our magazines, books, and digital content. We respect your opinion, and wish you the greatest success in your work on behalf of all people with diabetes. – Reader’s Digest

April 8, 2011 4:09 PM

You completely missed the point, "Anonymous".

We are concerned (to use your phrasing) because you're a reputable, established publication who should know better.

We are concerned because reputable, established publications such as yours should be fact-checking information with qualified medical professionals, not using terms because they can be found in "other healthcare and health-journalism communities". (And by "qualified medical professionals", I mean the type of doctors and researchers that deal with diabetes on an intricate and extensive basis - endocrinologists, for example.)

You're better than that. At least, you should be.

Frequent use and acceptance of a phrase doesn't constitute factual information. You know that, right? I mean, people used to think the Earth was flat at one point, too.

We are concerned because, like so many of those other "healthcare and health-journalism communities", you're using the most attention-grabbing phrasing you can muster to sell magazines. We know; this is a common practice. Magazines have to stand out among the clutter to grab attention, and make a profit somehow.

The problem, though, is that you're addressing a chronic illness here. This isn't "lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks!"; this isn't "The Five Foods You Aren't Eating But Should Be"; and it's definitely not "Shocking Confessions From Your Favorite Movie Stars!". You aren't a tabloid, Reader's Digest. (Right?) You're shaping the perceptions that people have of diabetes. The general public will see the cover title and headlines - maybe they'll even flip through a few pages. Some will read it cover-to-cover, sure.

And one of the conclusions they'll take away from it is that diabetes is somehow our fault. That, gosh, if we had only eaten more vegetables, or not had so much candy as a child, or exercised more, we wouldn't have "done this to ourselves". And why aren't we just following all of these "easy steps" outlined in your magazine - we could have cured ourselves by now! (/end sarcasm)

Diabetes, as a disease, isn't "reversible". The symptoms of type 2 can be improved; the progression of the disease may be slowed or halted, but not the disease itself. Because, Reader's Digest, if diabetes could be corrected so easily by the tips you're sharing, why would organizations like the Diabetes Research Institute, the American Diabetes Association, and the Joslin Diabetes Center still be around, researching prevention and a cure?

You are profiting off of the commonly-held but completely-false assertion that diabetes, in any form, can be reversed. And we - the ones who live with the disease - are the ones who will pay the price for it; in prejudice, in stereotypes, and in lost research dollars.

Shame on you, Reader's Digest.

We are concerned because the picture being painted by these Reader's Digest "Reverse Diabetes" publications simply isn't the truth - but, sadly, you seem to already know that since your email to Kelly had this in it: "With Reverse Diabetes, we offer empowering, motivating, medically-substantiated ways for people to halt the progression of their condition and lead healthier lives. This includes lowering and stabilizing blood sugar levels, reducing heart-disease risk and increasing their overall sense of vitality."

You realize that your publications may help people "to halt the progression of their condition" - yet that's not what you are calling your magazines. You aren't calling them "Teaching Your Diabetes What's What With Healthy Choices!", or "Live A Better, Healthier Life With Diabetes!". You are calling them "Reverse Diabetes", which isn't the same thing at all.

And that claim you make - that you "know with complete certainty that we have helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their condition by using our magazines, books, and digital content"? You actually don't know that, unless you have access to the medical records of those hundreds of thousands of people. You only know that you've sold that many copies.

Your lack of comprehension of the problem, the insensitivity of your "anonymous" blog comment, and your inability to openly respond to the diabetes online community who contacted you (you'd do well to take a page from MTV on this one): they all lead us to one, sad conclusion.

You just don't get it.

* * * * *

If you'd like to email the editors of Reader's Digest with your thoughts on their "Reverse Diabetes" series of publications, you may reach them at


  1. In fact, the term reverse diabetes is NOT used throughout the healthcare and health-journalism communities as anonymous states. In fact, on October 29, 2009, the American Diabetes Association published a Consensus Statement entitled "How Do We Define A Cure for Diabetes" in it's journal Diabetes Care which stated: "Medically, cure may be define as restoration to good health, while remission is defined as abatement or disappearance of the signs and symptoms of a disease." It went on to state "Abnormal glucose metabolism leading to hyperglycemia defines the disease diabetes, yet hyperglycemia exists on a continuum and the diagnosis of the disease occurs at levels sufficiently high to be associated with the diabetes-specific complication retinopathy. Should the absence of diaebtes be defined as glucose values defined as within the normal ranges, sub-diabetic but not necessarily normal values, or the complete absence of underlying abnormal physiology such as insulin resistance or beta cell dysfunction or loss?" Essentially, the consensus stated that under no circumstances can diabetes be cured or eradicated, at best it can be described as having gone into remission.

    In essence, RD's editorial staff is full of crap. No one in the medical profession claims diabetes can be reversed, at best some forms of the disease can be put into remission, but the underlying disease continues to exist.

  2. They really just do not get it do they!
    Talk about hiding behind 'other people use this phrase so we will too" like that makes it ok???
    To not even put their name when commenting on the blog as well is poor. Very poor. to say they 'know with complete certainty' that hundreds of thousands of people have improved their health because of their magazines is just laughable.
    At the end of the day if FALSE MISLEADING titles gets them more money then they aren't going to change. Why would they, they don't actually care about their readers at all, just that they part with their money. I think it's fair to say they are going to lose quite a lot from their poor attitude to this very important issue.

    Great post Kim!

  3. Of course they don't get it. All they care about is lining their pockets with money... more of OUR money that SHOULD be going to paying for our DIABETES supplies since it CANNOT BE REVERSED! HEAR THAT, READERS DIGEST???!?!??!?!?!?!?

    This is why we need a book, written by PWD's and Parents of CWD. With TRUTHFUL, HONEST, stories, from ALL types of Diabetes.

    Seriously, this stuff infuriates me to no end. If I had the money and it were legal and I knew it would do any good, I'd go up there and find Anonymous and kick their ever-livin-A**!!!!

  4. WOW -- I can't believe how thoughtless their reply was. "Well everybody is doing wrong, so we're going to also. Big deal."


  5. wonderful letter and very well said...thank you!! Great job!!

  6. Awesome letter, wish it didn't have to be written...but then again, don't we all wish we were cured or reversed or whatever?

  7. FANTASTIC response!
    I'll admit it, the answer they left on my blog INFURIATED me & it took everything I had not to respond with a response that was filled with "colorful" wording and phrases! Between the email exchange and the lame ass excuse for a comment they left, I do believe that Readers Digest has "jumped the shark!"
    Shame on them for selling magazines with cheap and inaccurate headlines that perpetuate diabetes myths and stereotypes!!!
    And shame on their advertisers for jumping on that bandwagon!
    Little ripples make BIG WAVES & we in the Diabetes On-line community are not afraid to make a splash!
    Kelly (k2) Kunik

  8. I think shame on their advertisers for jumping on that bandwagon!

  9. Here's my immitation of Reader's Digest:

    Dear Diabetic Community,

    If other publishers don't get it right, we don't have to get it right either. There's no point in being right if being right means fewer people pick up our magazine in the check out line. "Reverse type 2 diabetes symptoms" doesn't sound NEARLY as exciting as "Reverse diabetes," and we know full well that there are some people who will pick up a magazien that suggests a cure as apposed to a magazine that suggests control of a disease. Therefore, we're not going to spend the time and money it would take to redesign and possibly reprint our next cover.

    Publication Who Doesn't Reall Care About Losing Reputability

  10. Amen, girl! Don't give up the fight. Passion is what makes the difference in educating the public.

  11. "...we know with complete certainty that we have helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their condition by using our magazines, books, and digital content."
    I just keep wondering how many hours endocrinologists, CDEs, nutritionists, and nurses have put into undoing all that "help" through the years!
    I don't think I ever would have imagined (really, not in a million years) that MTV would handle themselves with more dignity than Readers Digest...
    Keep at this!

  12. Good job, Kim, and all the commenters who know the reality of diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2. Scott, great job on defining the difference between "reversal" (or cure) and "remission". I wish you were writing for magazines like this! And as far as preventing, no one really knows whether diet, weight loss (extremely difficult or impossible for some people) and exercise actually prevent Type 2, or simply delay it. In the olden days, people died of other things before Type 2 had a chance to reveal itself, but I know an 83-year-old lady, thin as a stick, who has developed Type 2, simply because she lived long enough. The ignorance about diabetes, both types, is appalling!

  13. I'd love to read the article before I fire off a letter. It's on what page of the May issue?

  14. Hi Angela!

    "Reverse Diabetes", we've found out, is actually a series of publications by RD. The photo I took (above) is what triggered my attention, and is an ad for the 6th edition of the series. This ad was probably around page 18 or so; towards the front.

  15. Reader's Digest was sold from a a God fearing conservative operation to a liberal group several years back and has never been the same. It was obvious from the git go.


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