Words Matter - Let's stop saying "Lifestyle"

I recently read an article by Paul Lincoln of the UK Public Health Network.

He argues that “I believe the term lifestyle or lifestyle factors should be completely abandoned by public health professionals/” Why does he believe that? Well there is a very good reason. As Mr Lincoln notes, this term, “Lifestyle,” is a loaded term that reinforces stereotypes about individuals and a world view that people are majorly or entirely responsible for their own health.

Mr. Lincoln suggests that the term “deathstyle” would probably be better because that clearly communicates that people are consciously making a choice to be unhealthy and die. I also believe this “lifestyle” language in the public health debate is very harmful. It places all the blame on the patient despite the clear evidence that patients do not actively choose to have diabetes or die early. Sure, there are factors which affect things, if you don’t eat right and don’t exercise, that can be a factor in the emergence of diabetes in many of us. But it isn’t the only factor, genetics is certainly very important and probably more important.

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@Brian_BSC, I do believe that words matter. I had not previously thought of the word “lifestyle” and how it plays out in public health discussions about diabetes, particularly T2D. Now that you bring it to my attention, though, lifestyle does connote willful choice and quickly leads to a gross simplification of type II diabetes and a reflexive attribution of blame.

I think it is way, perhaps, to relieve the casual reader or observer of needing to get more information and caring about the issue. Getting more educated and deciding whether to invest oneself emotionally is the more complicated route. Simply attributing blame is the easy way out.

In this context I can see why casting the word lifestyle in a negative light makes sense. It then allows the introduction of factors like genetics to be discussed. This turns the often knee-jerk blame/shame course into a more complicated, yet more honest, path.


I agree completely. I’ve found that term offensive for years. I’ve always said that being diagnosed in middle age is not about any kind of “style”. It is about turning your life inside out and upside down. Middle-agers should have some kind of death and re-birth ritual at the time of diagnosis. You know like some women talk about with menopause; or everybody that I know talks about after surviving a heart attack. The old self is still in there somewhere, but a new self needs to be born…Blessings on the old and the new!..Judith in Portland


I just hate the word ‘lifestyle’ applied to anything. And because my lifestyle choices before DX were those recommended by my doctor to avoid diabetes, I find the term infuriates me!


Great article, @Brian_BSC! Thanks for posting it :smile:

We’re having a live interview on November 24th (just in time for Thanksgiving fun and challenges!) with Jane K. Dickinson, who has been researching the affects of word choices on people with diabetes. It’s called "You Can’t Eat That!” – the effect of words on diabetes, research by Jane K. Dickinson. Check it out!


It’s a delicate balance… Going to far to the other extreme of convincing ourselves we have no control over our own health isn’t ideal either.


@Sam19…Respectfully–Whatever does the noxious, trendy, faddish word “lifestyle” have to do with our willingness and ability to take control of our own health?

The word has been so abused and overused that it means everything from get a new haircut to redo your living room so it can look like Madonna’s…Judith

It has a lot to do with it. If want to reach a point where we can’t have a conversation about “lifestyles” and how they can contribute to, prevent, or be helpful or detrimental to management of health concerns… We’re really not doing ourselves a great favor IMO.

I get it, people don’t like the term bc they fee it reinforces the notion that they are to blame for their health problems… The same term can be used with a more positive connotation that we can all embrace. Eg. “I’ve adopted a lifestyle of eating low carb and exercising a lot to help manage diabetes.” What’s wrong with that?

It’s just a word.

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Well, I do believe the original point of the post is that these things aren’t “just words” and that words do indeed matter…

It’s a word used as a cudgel to blame and shame. Such as, “Diabetes type 2 is a lifestyle disease.” Since lifestyles are freely chosen and adopted then the diabetes is therefore freely chosen and adopted. In other words, it implies, “your chosen lifestyle led you to eat too much, become obese and finally diabetic. It’s your fault due to your gluttony and sloth.”

But modern and polite attitudes do not allow such brazen accusation and discussion so people adopt more subtle terminology with implied meaning. But it’s no less offensive.


Sorry Terry, and Judith, I just can’t bring myself to get passionate about this one. I believe that lifestyle is both a major part of the problem, and a major part of the solution in our society to many issues, diabetes a prime example. Of course that doesn’t apply to every single case, but I don’t think boycotting the word is in our best interest. I think it’s a rather silly notion, honestly. From the perspective of an advocate for people with diabetes, I actually think it’s essentially counterproductive and promotes a helpless victim mentality. I respect your opinions though and if you don’t want to use the term “lifestyle” you have my full support.

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I actually don’t hear that phrase any more (T2 is a lifestyle disease) but then maybe I am isolated. But I do read a lot online and rarely see it.
I agree with Sam in that if it bugs you, I see no reason for you to use it. Just as long as we each get to choose our own response to it.
As with another “no no” word, “diabetic”, I call myself a diabetic whenever it comes up in conversation. Also an older adult or a volunteer (not a person who is older or a person who volunteers). To me it is a useful descriptive word.
We do have lifestyle impact diseases though I do not think that lifestyle alone explains or causes any disease. All have a variety of causation factors that can be helped or hindered by lifestyle. And I know that personally as I have my share of lifestyle hindrances!

Terry, I have to agree. I have frequently been made to feel “at fault” for getting T2D, with comments like, “Well, you enjoyed yourself until now…” and “Maybe you should have considered the consequences…” Sure, “lifestyle” can have an effect of one’s health - just ask former professional athletes that suffer from concussion syndrome - and perhaps for some - even many - people “lifestyle” choices has an impact on their Type 2 diabetes; however, there are many people - like myself - who made good lifestyle choices and nevertheless still have been diagnosed with T2D. It is clear to me that Type 2 diabetes is not caused by one set of conditions or choices, rather there are multiple pathways. Perhaps the tern “Type 2 Diabetes” itself is an oversimplification of a condition that is in fact many similar, but different diseases.

Regardless of all that, and in all due respect to healthy living advocates, labeling Type 2 Diabetes as a “lifestyle disease” tends to be prejudicial toward the many people who got there thru genetic or even environmental causes beyond their control. I have been happy to see that frequently is current articles on “lifestyle and health” T2D is rarely mentioned alone, and even frequently omitted in favor of CVD, and several other conditions that can be “caused” or prevented/delayed by good lifestyle choices. Yes, a healthy lifestyle is, well, healthy – but those with illnesses or chronic conditions are not to blame for their conditions.


I’m not sure you really understood the point of this piece. This was about the use of lifestyle in “Public Health.” You can personally use whatever term you want, but when governments and healthcare systems talk about diabetes they need to consider their words carefully. The use of the term lifestyle colors the entire discussion, implying that individual lifestyle choices led to T2 diabetes and individual choices can reverse and cure T2 diabetes. Diabetes of any kind is absolutely not simply a lifestyle disease.


What term would you prefer? Should public health officials also stop talking about “risk factors” when they discuss HIV? Or how about we no longer allow them to mention alcohol when they discuss cirrhosis of the liver, because some people get it without alcohol abuse? Diseases are unpleasant topics, and I don’t enjoy the stereotypes associated with diabetes any more than you do— but I still think that the last thing we need is the word police…

I understand as well as anyone else how the term doesn’t feel good to us, but that doesn’t make it invalid. Diabetes is a disease that in many cases risk of contracting can be reduced with lifestyle choices, and it is a disease that in many cases lifestyle is the most important element of managing once someone does have it. I’m acutely aware that this realization doesn’t feel good-- it doesn’t to me either-- but it’s still reality… And that’s why public health officials use that term, in my opinion rightly so. Certainly lifestyle isn’t the only factor, but it’s largely the only one we have any control over.

If we want to be leaders in the world of diabetes we can’t hide from that and pretend it doesn’t exist. We have to face it head on. We can do that by advocating healthy “lifestyles” accross the board, throughout society, which would both ultimately reduce the incidence of diabetes, help with the management of it and reduce complications and costs associated with it… What does hiding from the word and complaining about it being used in public health actually accomplish?


Are you sure it’s an implication and perhaps not an inference drawn by those who choose to be offended? Political correctness has been running amoking for a few years now, and it has shown no signs of slowing down, judging by the righteously indignant. I think we have far more important things to worry about, no? Well, I certainly do…


Gee, that sounds condescending! :slight_smile:

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@Brian_BSC @Sam19 @Nellje @phoenixbound @Judith_in_Portland—in other words–we need an @Everybody LOL…This discussion got edgy and I’m not sure why…It is very difficult days in Oregon right now. My husband did Incident Command training for a lot of the First Responders in the Roseburg area.

While music and my kitties are primary sources of comfort, we had been keeping vigil all day and night with a kitty who slipped away peacefully at 4AM the day of the shootings. Sleep not being possible, I extended my usual lunchtime listening to TED talks. Here’s one called How my Mind Came Back to Life and No One Knew. I thought many of you might find it interesting. It’s only 14 minutes…


I’m not edgy at all. Terrible situation down there in Oregon. Sorry about your cat, we just got a new kitten ourselves.

Will Check out Ted later, I have seen a few others

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Sorry Sam–but try the video sometime–the guy’s story is amazing and he writes well. It’s not meant to be pointed. I am just always fascinated by the often convoluted workings of our brains and this guy had to start from scratch, more or less, in getting words back…Blessings, as always…