Having close friends and families helps diabetics manager their condition

by Barbara Hewitt on January 12, 2018

Socially isolated people who are lonely may be more likely to develop diabetes than adults with closer ties to family and friends, a new piece of research suggests.

Loneliness has long been linked to a wide variety of physical and mental health issues and researchers reveal that the role of close friends and family is important for people with diabetes as they can help them manage their condition better.


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In particular family and friends can help and support diabetics in terms of what they eat, how much they exercise and how well they cope with managing their condition on an everyday basis.

To see how these relationships might influence the odds of getting diabetes in the first place, researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands analysed data from 2,861 adults aged 40 to 75 with an average age of 60.

More than half of the study group had normal blood sugar and no diagnosis of diabetes. But 430 people, or 15%, had slightly elevated blood sugar classified as pre-diabetes while about 4% has been newly diagnosed with diabetes when they joined the study and 24% already had the disease.

On average, people without diabetes had 11 friends and family members in their social network, compared with fewer than eight friends for people with newly or previously diagnosed diabetes.

‘Currently, high risk groups receive advice to become more physically active and eat healthier without any inquiries about their social situation. We think that this could be improved as socially isolated people may even have a higher risk for disease,’ said lead study author Stephanie Brinkhues.

The research says that every one person reduction in the size of people’s social networks was associated with 12% higher odds of newly diagnosed diabetes in women and 10% in men as well as an 8% greater likelihood of a previous diabetes diagnosis in women and 5% for men.

At the same time, each 10% drop in the number of social network members living within walking distance was associated with 21% higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis for women while every 10% increase in the proportion of the social network made of household members was associated with 25% higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis in women and 29% higher odds for men.

Living alone didn’t appear to influence the odds of diabetes for women. But for men, living alone was associated with 84% higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis and 94% higher odds of a previous diagnosis.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how the number of people in social networks or the types of interactions within networks might influence the risk of diabetes but experts say it add to the evidence linking social isolation to diabetes and other chronic illnesses that can impact both quality of life and longevity.

It is generally accepted that people who have many close relationships with friends and family members may be more motivated to be socially engaged, physically active and follow a healthy lifestyle and in contrast those who live alone may have less motivation to cook healthy meals, get out and exercise or do other things that can keep health problems at bay.



The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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