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Deprivation has a negative impact on the health of people with Type 1 diabetes

Posted: 6th March 2019
  • People with Type 1 diabetes living in more deprived areas of Scotland have higher blood sugar levels, putting them at greater risk of diabetes complications
  • Researchers looked at the health records of everyone living with Type 1 diabetes in Scotland over 12 years
  • Findings highlight the persistent and significant health inequalities disadvantaged people with Type 1 diabetes face

New research announced today at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference has revealed shocking health inequalities between people with Type 1 diabetes depending on where they live.

Diabetes UK-funded researchers, led by Professor Helen Colhoun at the University of Edinburgh, analysed health records for all people with Type 1 diabetes in Scotland (totalling more than 30,000) from the SCI-Diabetes – one of the most extensive health databases for diabetes anywhere in the world. They looked at trends over a 12 year period (2004 to 2016) and explored whether there were any differences in blood glucose, also called blood sugar, control between different ages, social groups and gender.

They found that people with Type 1 diabetes living in the most deprived areas of Scotland had higher blood glucose levels than people from the least deprived areas (on average HbA1c was 7.78mmol/mol higher in most deprived areas than least deprived areas).

Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition where the body can’t make insulin. It’s not caused by diet, lifestyle or weight. Without careful management blood glucose levels can become too high and, over time, high levels of glucose in the blood can seriously damage blood vessels, leading to complications like blindness, amputations and heart disease.

While everyone with diabetes should have an individual target for their own HbA1c, we know a HbA1c of a 48mmol/mol or below reduces the risk of developing complications. It is therefore important for people with Type 1 diabetes to have safe blood glucose levels.

Alongside this, social deprivation is strongly linked to higher levels of physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, smoking and poor blood pressure control, all of which can further increase the risk of developing the serious complications of Type 1 diabetes.

Professor Helen Colhoun, University of Edinburgh, said: “We found that people with Type 1 diabetes living in more deprived areas of Scotland consistently had higher levels of blood glucose than those in less deprived areas. This underlines the need for policies to tackle these inequalities since they lead to higher rates of diabetes complications.

“Achieving safe blood glucose control is complex. In the future it will be important to assess whether recent policies widening the provision of insulin pumps and flash monitors for those with Type 1 diabetes impact these inequalities.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “We must make sure that appropriate, high quality care and information is available for everyone with Type 1 diabetes, whoever they are and wherever they live.

“This research gives us crucial insights into how, and some indicators as to why, blood glucose control varies across different people with Type 1 diabetes. This vital evidence helps to identify where support is most needed, so we can help everyone to live well with their Type 1 diabetes.”

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