Starbucks Barista Writes Joke About Diabetes On Customer's Drink Cup, Discovers Their Sister Has Type 1 Diabetes

Starbucks Drink
Starbucks drinks can have high levels of sugar and calories, but one barista wrote an offensive message. Photo courtesy of Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

Starbucks serves millions of cups of coffee from thousands of its coffee shops around the world each day, and the coffee giant is known for its artisan blends and friendly baristas. Recently, however, as a customer in Florida was about to enjoy his grande white mocha, he read a message on the side of his cup. A barista from the St. Augustine area had written: “Diabetes, here I come,” which didn’t sit well with the customer.

“That first word just automatically brought the picture of both sisters in my head, and I was taken aback," the unidentified man told local CBS 47 Action News Jax. "Seeing the struggles they went through since third or fourth grade and the doctor appointments, it definitely struck a nerve."

Although the man said he doesn’t want an apology from Starbucks, he wrote a message of his own on the cup, and returned it to the shop’s counter. "2 of my sisters are diabetic, so ... not funny," he wrote.

In a request for comment to Starbucks’ corporate headquarters from Action News Jax, the company said, "We strive to provide an inclusive and positive experience for our customers, and we're disappointed to learn of this incident. We are working directly with the customer to apologize for his experience, and with our partners (employees) to ensure this does not happen again.”

The barista’s remark referred to the amount of sugar and calories inside the drink. For one 16-ounce white chocolate mocha, customers can expect to slurp down 470 calories and 59 grams of sugar. The customer also ordered his drink with classic simple syrup, which adds up to four pumps of extra flavor. At 20 calories and 5 grams of sugar per pump, that’s another 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar. According to the American Heart Association, our daily intake of sugar should add up to roughly 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, which means one white mocha alone comprises nearly a day and a half’s worth of sugar intake.  

The Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Sugar, which breaks down from food, provides energy to various cells in the body, including muscles and the brain. Insulin, released from the pancreas, processes this sugar in the blood. Those who develop Type 2 diabetes become resistant to insulin because their bodies are taking in too many calories or sugar. And because the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to process the high levels of sugar in the blood, sugar spikes to dangerous levels. Although there are many risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, 90 percent of those who are diagnosed with the disease are overweight or obese.

The combination of sugars and calories found in the Starbucks’ drink may have prompted the barista to make the diabetes comment, but in doing so, they failed to consider Type 1 diabetes. It is likely the customers’ sisters did not develop the disease by over-consuming sugary, calorie-laden beverages.

Both types are characterized by having higher than normal blood sugar levels. However, sugar consumption does not contribute to the development of Type 1 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and other unknown factors that trigger the disease in children and young adults. It’s an autoimmune disease, which causes the immune system to mistake insulin cells for a threat, spurring an attack. This prevents their bodies from balancing their sugar intake with insulin, and causes a buildup of sugar in the blood stream since it can’t be transported into the bodies’ cells.

The key to living with diabetes is maintaining healthy sugar levels through diet, monitoring, and insulin injections.

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