Kerry Wyatt is among the more well-known fictional characters with diabetes, but her “actions” in an episode of Emmerdale last week painted a particularly bleak picture of diabetes management.

Having experienced an unpleasant sequence of “soap events”, the diabetic character – who also has diabetic retinopathy – was seen gorging on chocolate and wine, prompting a cluster of Twitter users to voice their concerns.

One person wrote: “How is Kerry eating chocolate, junk food and drinking alcohol when she’s meant to be diabetic?”

This is a multi-faceted subject:

  1. The show’s writers are depicting the character as being at a very low ebb. By showing her consuming high-calorie foods and beverages, her desperation is evident – she doesn’t care about her diabetes management in that moment
  2. Some viewers thought this might have been a plot hole, with the writers forgetting about her diabetes. This is unlikely
  3. People with diabetes can sometimes binge eat in times of stress. But given Emmerdale’s fan base, the presentation of this poor management is liable to confuse thousands of people who are not familiar with diabetes and assume this is the norm.

On the one hand, the Emmerdale writers have done nothing wrong. They are portraying somebody struggling with life and neglecting their diabetes in the process. This is a situation likely shared by an unfortunately high number of people with diabetes.

But communication is key. The show doesn’t state – and doing so subtlety would likely be a narrative challenge – that people with diabetes can eat and drink high-calorie food, but it can have a substantial effect on blood sugar levels.

Moreover, Emmerdale didn’t show the character medicating to accommodate for this food consumption, which led to several Twitter users being confused:

“Anyone remember the old days when Kerry had diabetes?” one user said.

It may be – narratively speaking – that the character did medicate and her blood sugar levels stabilised. It may be that she didn’t and risked sky-high blood sugar levels as a result.

And that is the trickiness of portraying diabetes on screen – balancing entertainment with responsibility.

People with diabetes who watched the show might have thought: “Wow, Kerry’s BG levels will spike after this”, but people unfamiliar with the condition were likely left puzzled.

“You can’t eat sugar” is a perpetual diabetes myth, and in not contextualising the scene, it’s all too easy for Emmerdale viewers to adopt a wholly distorted concept of diabetes management.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is “Well done, Emmerdale for trying to highlight a prominent problem in diabetes management”.  All of us get stressed, and (high-calorie) comfort food is a momentary release that even people with diabetes indulge in. But the consequences can be severe, especially if this behaviour is not addressed.

Providing the show acknowledges why the character’s binge eating was so serious, there is no reason why this should affect this storyline.

The show could provide alternative options for people with diabetes in this situation – potentially in the form of a message at the end of the episode linking to health advice or support.

Doing so would state that Kerry’s behaviour is indicative of someone that needs a little help in managing stress levels and their diabetes, and that high-calorie food consumption is a negative outcome rather than an inevitability.

Picture: ITV

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