Sex and gender are key in diabetes research

How do sex and gender affect diabetes research and care? Do people with Type 1 (T1D) or Type 2 diabetes (T2D) experience stigmatization because of their disease?

Researchers and patient partners from Women’s College Hospital, Diabetes Action Canada and OSSU presented a poster linked to a research article, Living with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes: A Participatory Study of Lived Experience through an Intersectional Sex and Gender Lens, at the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences conference. It was one of a few posters with a sex and gender lens, as well as considering individual experiences related to gender, age, race/ethnicity and other factors. This multifaceted perspective was especially important to the patient partners from the original study.

There are significant individual differences in a person’s experiences of stigma and discrimination, decisions around disclosure, challenges with clothing because of blood sugar monitors, family planning and other considerations.

“It’s important to highlight that diabetes care and diabetes-related research needs to be tailored to the individual,” said Dr. Robin Mason, lead author of the paper and an OSSU researcher at Women’s College Hospital Research Institute, one of OSSU’s 14 Research Centres. “Do clinicians recognize the emotional effort needed to manage not just diabetes but decisions related to disclosure, dealing with the medical system, family criticism, and for some with T2D, self-blame/shame/guilt?”

“Many of the men and women (with T1D and T2D) believed they had been discriminated against or stigmatized (or further stigmatized on the basis of race, religion, etc.) or would be treated differently when those at work, for example, learned of their condition. In research, where we are so often looking at populations or large groups and the macro issues, this study emphasizes the parallel need to also know and understand individuals’ stories.”

The best part of the conference? The face-to-face, in-real-life interaction.

“The most significant and exciting interactions were with attendees with diabetes who were really grateful and excited about the work. Two young women with T1D really connected with the quotes about clothing challenges, decisions about whether to start a family, and other aspects of living with diabetes that people might not consider,” said Dr. Mason.

Women’s College Hospital Research Institute (WCRI) is a leader in the promotion of SGBA+ (sex- and gender-based analysis plus) across all health research.  To learn more about what they do and their resources, visit their website.  For investigators interested in learning how to apply a sex and gender lens to their health research projects, contact Dr. Robin Mason for individual advice.