Monday, December 10, 2012

Why Not Bluewashing the World in November is Better Than Pinkwashing the World for Breast Cancer in October

October was Breast Cancer Awareness month, and (at least in the U.S. and Canada), this year, true to form, our world was awash in a sea of pink.  As some fellow diabetes bloggers have written, including my friend Kelly Kunik of Diabetesaliciousness and someone else I have great respect for, Alex O'Meara, the author of "Chasing Medical Miracles: The Promise and Perils and Clinical Trials" and fellow Type 1 himself (at least before his islet transplant, see his article HERE), painting the world pink to "raise awareness" of breast cancer is not necessarily the path we should even WANT to follow for diabetes research.

In fact, I would dare say that's probably something diabetes should avoid.

First of all, as Alex rightly noted, pinkwashing means that money is diverted from other diseases, many of which are arguably more serious (killing more people, causing more pain and destruction, with less effective treatments).  Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) certainly fit that description.

In fact, according to data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (see HERE), the U.S. spent $3,721 per patient (or $18,952 per actual patient death) on breast cancer research, while simultaneously spending a measly $42 per patient on diabetes (or $14,164 per patient death, although I should note that relatively few actual deaths are attributed to diabetes specifically).  In fact, heart disease is the number 1 killer of people with diabetes, even though diabetes may very well have contributed towards those deaths).  These stats were aggregated by the FAIR Foundation [].

As K2 aptly points out, pinkwashing makes us feel like the eccentric cosmetics company owner Bebe Gallini who hired Mike Brady's (of "The Brady Bunch") architechtural firm to design a new factory for her, she even said "Darling ... with Bebe, you have complete freedom, you can design my factory however you like ... as long as it's pink!"

But beyond diverting money from other noteworthy causes to breast cancer activism (not necessarily breast cancer RESEARCH), there is also a HUGE degree of diversion away from the more important issues on breast cancer.  The idea of slapping a pink ribbon on everything from dish soap, to nail polish to pink buckets of chicken at KFC (heck, Huffington Post reports that someone has even bred a pink pumpkin, see for details), also means that the actual, original meaning behind the color pink has been badly diluted.

I, for one, don't think that defines a "successful" public relations campaign.

Some Canadian filmmakers produced a compelling movie on this subject which aired on different stations operated by MTV Networks.

Have a look at the trailer for that movie below or at

This isn't meant to disrespect the breast cancer activists; I lost my maternal grandmother to breast cancer in the late 1970s, and my own mother was treated successfully for breast cancer a few years ago.

However, I do think the critique of breast cancer as a cause being hijacked by corporate interests is worthy of mention, and I also believe that we really should be standing with the FAIR Foundation [] for more equitable distribution of the research paid for with our tax dollars.

My comment on Alex's post was that I would hope that diabetes as a cause could avoid the mistake that has become pinkwashing, hopefully to ensure that not only does diabetes receive it's fare share of funding (which it doesn't today), but also that we don't let our diseases (diabetes not a single disease, much like cancer is not a single disease) be used for crass commercial interests.  But, as the movie I wrote about above notes, these days, advocates for breast cancer are fighting to take control over how pink is used.  To them, all I can say is "Good luck with that" because once the genie has been let out of the bottle, its no small task to change course.

For these reasons, I'm actually kind of pleased to say that the world has not yet been bluewashed during the month of November to address World Diabetes Day.  In part, that's because the International Diabetes Federation refuses to let anyone do almost anything with the blue circle, which frankly, has impeded widespread adoption of it's use.  That's not a good thing.  But, just maybe people with diabetes can avoid some of the pitfalls that have become lost in a sea of pink associated with Breast Cancer Awareness Month during the month of October.

To be sure, there are serious re-prioritization issues as far as how our tax dollars fund research.  Breast cancer and AIDS both get far more than those diseases are entitled to based on the number of people impacted and/or deaths caused by those diseases, while other diseases get screwed out of money that could provide some much needed help.  Patients arguably should make more noise about it, and there are tactics used by both AIDS activists and Breast Cancer activists we could use to get more justifiable attention and money.  But, just maybe, we can learn from their mistakes, too!


Scott Strange said...

Great post Scott, I agree... I think that things like "pinkwashing" happen when the "brand" (ie funds raised) becomes more important than the people that are supposed to be supported

Jenny said...

The whole "Awareness" thing for any disease is a total waste of resources, as promoting "diabetes awareness" never includes providing any actual information that might make people more knowledgeable about diabetes. Ditto breast cancer awareness. Instead, you have feel-good slactivism where people feel like they've done something by lighting a candle or displaying a ribbon or saying, "I support XXX awareness" and when it is all over nothing has changed. Except that having gotten their feel-good, the person neglects to actually contribute money to organizations that might actually do real research because the "awareness" effort doesn't provide any information as to what organizations might do that.

And then of course the American Diabetes Association sends out its legions of telemarketers who keep 60-80% of the funds they raise to exploit the public ,on the heels of the Diabetes Unawareness efforts.