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22 April 2020

Institute news

Research to evaluate impact of pandemic on people with diabetes

The Baker Institute’s PREDICT study, which examines the complications arising from type 2 diabetes and their prevention, is being expanded to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people living with diabetes.

Study leader and Head of Clinical Diabetes and Population Health at the Baker Institute, Professor Jonathan Shaw, said it was a particularly stressful time for people living with the chronic condition.

“Some initial links have been made suggesting people with diabetes are at an increased risk of complications from COVID-19, although the exact reasons behind this are still unclear,” Professor Shaw said.

“People with diabetes may feel caught between wanting to protect themselves from the virus, but being worried these precautions are negatively impacting on the things they would normally do to manage their diabetes. Things like accessing healthy foods, exercising, attending doctor’s appointments, and even accessing medication.”

Professor Shaw said the PREDICT study, which started in 2018, was uniquely positioned to better understand these pandemic impacts.

“Most of the questions we want to ask our study group now were also answered when they first joined the PREDICT study. This puts us in a really strong position to evaluate how diabetes self-management is faring, compared to before the pandemic,” he said.

Over the coming months, Professor Shaw’s team will aim to contact more than 500 PREDICT participants from across Melbourne via phone and email, to take them through a follow up questionnaire. Participants will be asked about how they are coping with managing their diabetes through the pandemic, their emotional response, and any lifestyle changes, such as physical activity levels and alcohol intake.

Professor Shaw hopes the data will be used to determine and then mitigate the impact of pandemic restrictions on wider health outcomes for the more than 1 million Australians living with type 2 diabetes.

“The measures the government has put in place so far have been appropriately directed towards controlling the spread of the coronavirus. But there has been less thought given to addressing the other potential health impacts of these restrictions. One reason for that is we don’t know much yet about what these impacts are,” he said.

“Maybe there is a minimal effect, which means that if we have to lock down again for the coronavirus, or for another pandemic, we can go hard on these restrictions and we know it plays out okay. But if we show there are significant impacts for people with diabetes, we can identify areas that need attention and advocate for them.

“For example, there may be a need for more tools and better public health messaging around access to medical services, managing stress, maintaining physical activity, or discouraging the rationing of medication. We can also work on how to address these issues and their consequences for people who have already been affected by the lockdown."

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