Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Diabetes UK campaign

Diabetes UK responds to comments by Asimakopoulou and colleagues

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 29 January 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1152
  1. Louise Ansari, director of communications1
  1. 1Diabetes UK, London NW1 7AA, UK
  1. louise.ansari{at}

Asimakopoulou and colleagues suggest that Diabetes UK’s type 2 diabetes awareness campaign failed to offer those at risk of type 2 diabetes something practical they could do about it.1 2 3 This is simply incorrect. The advertising specifically recommended that people who were worried should get their risk assessed at a pharmacy or GP surgery, or use our online risk score.

Neither is it correct that people already know that a family history of diabetes is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Market research that we commissioned ahead of the campaign showed that, unprompted, barely one in 10 people identified family history as a risk factor. Awareness that a South Asian background is a risk factor was even lower.

The authors also criticised us for the photographs we used. But we face a situation where too few people understand the seriousness of diabetes. It is still often seen as a relatively mild condition, even though it carries the risk of devastating complications, such as amputation, blindness, and kidney failure. Yes, the imagery we used was shocking, but this was necessary to challenge this misconception.

We did not choose this imagery lightly. We presented different options to focus groups of people at high risk and they overwhelmingly identified this approach as the one that would be most likely to have an impact on them. This was then confirmed by quantitative research. I am not persuaded that the contrary evidence the authors present—a study of 21 participants from Australia—challenges this.

In terms of people who already have type 2 diabetes, we certainly did not intend to upset them. But again, diabetes is a serious condition that can have devastating consequences if not properly managed and we need to raise awareness that this is the case, even among those with diabetes.

Lastly, I never meant to suggest that the full extent of the campaign’s impact was the 30 000 people who took our online risk assessment. It wasn’t. Thanks to our campaign, millions more people were made aware that diabetes is a serious condition. As well as the 30 000 people who had their risk assessed online, many more were risk assessed at pharmacies and GP surgeries. But I do find it disappointing that the authors tried to diminish the impact of our campaign by presenting the 30 000 people who checked their risk online as a drop in the ocean compared with the estimated 850,000 people who have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.

Clearly, diabetes is one of the biggest challenges we face today in the UK; three million people have been diagnosed with it, as well as the 850 000 with undiagnosed type 2, and the condition accounts for 10% of the NHS budget. We have never suggested it is a challenge that one advertising campaign—or any one single thing—is likely to fix. But, like any big and daunting challenge, we need to tackle it bit by bit. That is what we do, day in day out, at Diabetes UK, and I am proud of the contribution this advertising campaign has made to that.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1152


  • Competing interests: I am director of communications for Diabetes UK.


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