Nick Jonas Talks Diabetes Management & Taking the ‘Guessing Game’ Out of the Disease at SXSW: Exclusive
Nick Jonas has long been a famous face of diabetes. After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 13 years old, he’s spent close to two decades in the spotlight as a real-life example of how to thrive with the chronic disease, advocating for diabetes awareness and even launching Beyond Type 1, his own diabetes nonprofit organization, back in 2015.
At SXSW on Monday (March 13), the Jonas Brothers heartthrob took his voice and advocacy work to a new level by participating in “Crushing: The Burden of Diabetes on Patients With Nick Jonas,” a panel discussion with Dexcom COO Jake Leach; Dr. Thomas Grace, director of the Blanchard Valley Diabetes Center; Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod; and Rev. Mireya Martínez, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church who lives with type 2 diabetes.
The panel shone a light on diabetes management at the annual Austin, Texas, festival, engaging in a thought-provoking and hopeful conversation about access and affordability, new breakthroughs in technology and treatment, and what more can be done for people living across the country with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Below, Jonas chatted exclusively with Billboard about his experience on the SXSW stage, how he juggles his own diabetes management with the demands of international pop stardom, and what fans can expect from the Jonas Brothers’ upcoming five-night Broadway residency in New York City, which kicks off Tuesday night at the Marquis Theatre.
Congrats on the panel, Nick — how do you feel it went?
The panel went well! Some really interesting people that I was excited to meet and have a conversation around diabetes management and, you know, what my experience has been. There was a lot of conversation around access and affordability and some good progress that we’ve made over the last couple years — great progress very recently — and how we can continue that conversation and raise more awareness around CGM [continuous glucose monitoring] and the benefits of that. It’s been a pretty great day — it’s exciting to talk about something as personal as diabetes on a stage like South By.
You’ve been very open throughout your career about what it was like being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when you were a kid. How has managing your diabetes changed and evolved over the years as you’ve gotten older?
I think now entering my 30s and being a father, you know, these things all mean that much more to me, and I’m even more focused on my health and fitness and wellness and just being as present as possible as well. One of the major symptoms of living with type 1 is that when your glucose is high, it affects your hormones and everything else, so your attitude can be really… edgy is the best way to put it. [Laughs] And I definitely didn’t want that to be a factor — or I try to limit that being a factor and something I have to work through. So knowing that I’m getting readings as frequently as I’m getting through the Dexcom is kind of life-changing. Because I can really make changes in real time to avoid situations that would’ve otherwise been just me playing the guessing game.
It’s just been interesting to see over the years how my management of the disease has evolved. I try to be as pragmatic about it as possible and just kind of say up front that I’m certainly no expert. But I’ve now lived with this for, you know, 17-ish years and had to go through various points of really hard times and situations and other times that I feel like I’ve got a grip on things. But it’s just about riding that wave and doing the best you can.
How often are you getting those Dexcom readings?
Every couple of minutes. It’s pretty amazing, the technology and how small the wearable is and what I feel is the accuracy, as well. It’s remarkable technology that has been ongoing now for, I think, nearly 20 years. But where we are today just from 10 years ago is pretty incredible. I think it’s exciting to get to talk about it, and talk about the awareness component because so many people just aren’t aware of it. They don’t even know that this tech exists, or that it could make their lives so much better.
Speaking of raising awareness, you recently starred in Dexcom’s Super Bowl commercial. What was it like being able to film that?
This was our second Super Bowl commercial and, you know, I just think back to the 13-year-old me: newly diagnosed, didn’t know much about the disease at all. I was learning in real time, and was honestly very scared. Thinking back to that kid and now he can watch a platform as big as the Super Bowl and see a commercial about diabetes management, it’s a really exciting thing to be a part of and really humbling. And I thought the creative was super fun and kind of spelled it out very clearly — that it’s not magic, it’s Dexcom. I think I would’ve responded to that as a 13-year-old pricking my finger and trying to get a grasp on what this next step of my life was gonna look like.
What other little decisions do you have to make regarding the management of your diabetes when you’re, say, out on tour or heading into an album promo cycle like you are about to right now for The Album?
I think the biggest thing is just trying to avoid low glucose crashes. You know, nothing is perfect, right? So there are days when I feel like I’ve got a real grasp on it and then something happens and it’s kind of completely out of my control. It’s a really unpredictable disease that way. So avoiding lows and avoiding staying out of range, being on the higher side of glucose levels [too]. Because the symptoms and effects of that both short-term and long-term are pretty intense. And my goal is always just to be as present and in the moment as possible, whether I’m onstage or on a press tour, doing promo. It’s really all about just basically trying to manage my diabetes so that I can just live as freely and be as present as possible.
I would imagine that a resource like Dexcom helps you maybe not have it be so front of mind all the time.
Yeah, I look at my phone pretty frequently to go look at Instagram or Twitter. And it’s just as easy to click on the app to go look at my glucose, you know? It’s really integrated, literally, into the fabric of my life and something now that, with a tool like Dexcom, I can approach with an ease that I didn’t have before.
How does your mission with Beyond Type 1 help bring awareness to the importance of diabetes management?
Beyond Type 1 and the work that we’re doing is really all about surviving and thriving. So, you know, being an asset for the diabetes community — both type 1 and type 2 — by way of publishing great articles about the diabetes management side of things for both the individual and family and friends. But also touching on topics and themes that other, more clinical diabetes resources may not lean into as much as we’ve been able to and have the freedom to. So, taboo topics, or even just questions that aren’t as frequently asked. Spotlighting members of the community who are doing great work with their advocacy and raising awareness. And then obviously our main goal, as it is for everyone, I think, is a cure. So that’s a major part of it.
We understand that there’s a lot of very nuanced conversations happening around access and affordability and we are a part of that. So we’re aligning ourselves with organizations and individuals that are really steering us in the right direction as an org and setting a clear mandate from the top down on our end of where we can plug in to shed some light with the platform that we have, both on social media and otherwise. Also with Dexcom, we’re committing a million dollars to communities that need access and this information the most. So that was really exciting coming out of the Super Bowl commercial — the commitment from Dexcom and from Beyond Type 1 to partner on that. I can’t want to get into the conversation of where exactly that money’s gonna go.
Later this week you’re headed to New York for the Broadway residency. What’s it been like going through your discography to prep for all the shows?
You know, we [pauses] I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: We have a teleprompter at this point. Because we’ve got so many songs and we play all of the songs. So that’s helpful. But as far as going back, there’s the aspect of re-learning some of the songs. But then it really is kind of an emotional experience because you’re walking through different chapters of your life and your journey, both as a band and also as family, and kind of where we were at those pivotal moments when we released those albums. But it’s also a celebration! So to return to the Broadway stage — literally for me, the very stage that I performed on at 9 years old in Annie Get Your Gun — will be a pretty incredible thing. And again, to get to share that with family and friends who will be in the audience to lead up to what we’re all most excited about, which is unveiling The Album on Saturday night.
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