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New research to help beat diabetes stigma

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Diabetes stigma refers to negative thoughts, attitudes and behaviours towards people living with diabetes. Diabetes is relentless, so having to deal with diabetes stigma on top can have a huge impact on health and wellbeing.

We know that too many people living with diabetes experience stigma – recently we told you about our work to listen to the experiences of people with diabetes and delve into the scale of the problem. We heard that a shocking 80% of people have come across negative attitudes because of their diabetes. 

But to find ways to address it, we need a better understanding of how diabetes related stigma develops and how it affects people. Our Diabetes Research Steering Groups have told us a lack of research into the issue means we just don’t know enough. So we called on scientists to apply with research ideas that would help us to understand and tackle diabetes stigma. 

After rigorous review by our panels of people with diabetes and scientists, we’re delighted to award almost £500,000 to two brilliant scientists. They will each solve different problems that could unlock fresh approaches to managing diabetes stigma.

Combating type 1 diabetes stigma

Professor Nick Oliver and his team at Imperial College London will look at the causes of type 1 diabetes stigma, exploring who it impacts, and how to reduce it. He’ll survey a large and diverse group of people living with type 1 diabetes, to take a deep dive into their personal experiences of stigma.

Read more about Prof Oliver’s project here. 

Finding out more about what drives type 1 diabetes stigma, how it may change over time, and how it impacts people is essential to understand how we can better support those who experience it. By building the first picture of stigma in people living with type 1 diabetes in the UK, this research can help researchers to develop novel ways to tackle it and reduce its negative effects. 

Prof Oliver said:

"We’ll be doing some focus groups and some interview work with people living with diabetes so we can get a really in-depth understanding of how stigma evolves, what things it’s associated with externally and also internally, and how people feel about themselves. Hopefully all of this will give us a really key way to understand stigma for people living with type 1 diabetes, and we can then start to build interventions and start to address the issues of stigma."

Shedding the stigma around gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes can develop during pregnancy. Pregnancy is a time when people can face even greater judgement and scrutiny over their diet, physical activity levels or other health related behaviours. And this could mean people with gestational diabetes may face even more stigma.

Dr Rita Forde and her team at King’s College London will work with women who have experience of gestational diabetes and healthcare professionals, to develop communication tools that aim to raise awareness of and combat gestational diabetes related stigma.

Dr Forde said:

"We’ve previously identified that stigma, both perceived and experienced, can negatively impact women’s health during and following a pregnancy complicated by gestational diabetes. We will develop some films and animations for women with gestational diabetes, their partners and families, healthcare professionals, and wider society, to challenge some of the stigmatising language and stereotypes in relation to gestational diabetes."

Read more about Dr Forde’s project.

Steps to stop stigma

But the work doesn’t end here. We know that people living with all types of diabetes are at risk of experiencing stigma, and we urgently need more research to understand how we can start to tackle it for everyone. We hope these pioneering new projects will pave the way for even more research exploring stigma in more people, and find ways to lessen the impact on all people living with diabetes.  

Dr Steven Parks, Research Manager for the Diabetes Research Steering Groups at Diabetes UK, said: 

"People living with diabetes can experience stigma in a variety of ways, which can impact mental health, contribute to diabetes distress, and affect their ability to manage their condition. Researchers around the world have attempted to understand the impact of stigma experienced by people living with different types of diabetes but to this date, no studies have focussed on how stigma is experienced by those living with type 1 or gestational diabetes in this country.

"These studies are the first of their kind in the UK and will help to understand what factors contribute to stigma in people with type 1 or gestational diabetes. The findings from this study will be used to inform future work on how stigma can be prevented, both in the context of care and in wider society. Preventing stigma is key to ensuring that the impact of diabetes is minimised, allowing people to live happier and healthier lives."

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