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Does Diabetes Need A Blue Circle To Establish Its Disease Cred?

Breast cancer has a pink ribbon. Cystic fibrosis has a purple ribbon. Heart disease has a red ribbon.

Would diabetes be easier for people to talk about if it had a blue circle?

Some advocates think so and have been pushing various diabetes groups to unite behind the color blue. The idea has a lot of traction outside the United States.

Hundreds of edifices around the world, from Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, were illuminated with blue lights on Nov. 14, World Diabetes Day.

But in the United States, diabetes groups are all over the color spectrum. The American Diabetes Association uses red; the American Association of Diabetes Educators favors orange and gray; while the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation goes with blue.

Since more than one-third of Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic, you'd think here's one disease that doesn't need a color to establish cred. Then there's the fact that Americans may be suffering from awareness ribbon fatigue, seeing as there are now hundreds of variants, for diseases from Lyme disease (green, of course) to interstitial cystitis (teal).

But partisans of blue say having the equivalent of breast cancer's pink ribbon could mean a lot more money for diabetes research and education, and a lot more support for people with a chronic disease that can be difficult to manage, and can have devastating consequences.

It might also help people take diabetes more seriously. "There was a time when people wouldn't say the words 'breast cancer' out loud," says Amy Tenderich, a diabetes blogger who is pushing blue. "And now it's everywhere; at the supermarket, at the bank. It's not only in your face, it's positive." So positive, in fact, that her teenage daughters are wearing "save the ta-tas" bracelets.

By contrast, she says, people tend to look at diabetes as "kind of a joke disease. People think it's what happens if you eat too much candy."

Shots isn't quite sold on pink Chicago Bears T-shirts as a decisive step in the battle against breast cancer.

Still, it's hard to dismiss the notion that diabetes is one of those diseases that people would rather not think about, until they're forced to. If a blue button, or blue NFL jerseys, are what it takes to reduce or prevent the suffering caused by diabetes, then maybe going blue is worth a shot.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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