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Cultural beliefs and social networks crucial in South Asian people’s management of diabetes

Published: 
27 May 2015

Research from the University of Southampton, in collaboration with Manchester and Keele Universities, has found that cultural health beliefs prevent many South Asian people in the UK with diabetes from effectively managing their condition.

The South Asian population in the UK has a higher incidence of diabetes and poorer health outcomes from treatment than the general population, but previous studies have not focused on the role of social networks or assessed beliefs about diabetes to explore self-management behaviours in this population.

Analysis of interviews with South Asian people, published in the journal BMC Family Practice, shows that especially among first generation immigrants, fatalistic and treatment beliefs are often a hindrance to managing the condition.

Dr Anne Kennedy, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, said: “This study is important as it adds to our understanding of how social networks within South Asian populations are implicated in the management of diabetes.”

Dr Anne Kennedy

Dr Neesha Patel, University of Manchester health psychologist who led the study, added: “Many of the people we interviewed have conflicting views about the causes of their diabetes, which seems to have an impact on how they manage it. Some believe that the state of their health is out of their control, and also have limited knowledge of diabetes being related to genetics and lifestyles factors.”

The study also revealed the strengths of family networks in supporting people to manage their diabetes. Many people without a good command of English were helped by their children to research their condition online and in other households where women took a prime role in shopping and cooking, diet was carefully managed.

However, incorrect information about the value of herbal remedies and types of food to eat was also spread around these networks.

Researchers have called for these factors to be considered when developing culturally specific treatment plans and information. They also suggest education guidelines need to be developed for health care practitioners on how to account for cultural health beliefs in order to identify barriers to diabetes management.

The research was funded by the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC), which aims to improve the health of people in Greater Manchester and beyond through carrying out research and putting it into practice.

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