Beliefs about health and diabetes in men of different ethnic origin


  • Katarina G. Hjelm MSc PhD SRNT,

  • Karin Bard MSc SRNT,

  • Per Nyberg PhD,

  • Jan Apelqvist MD PhD

Katarina G. Hjelm,
Department of Health Science, and Social Work,
University of Vaxjo,


Aim.  This paper reports the findings of a study exploring the health and illness beliefs of men with diabetes, who were from different cultural backgrounds and living in Sweden.

Background.  No studies have been reported that have focused on the beliefs about health and illness in men with diabetes mellitus of different ethnic origin. Beliefs may affect self-care and care-seeking behaviour.

Method.  An explorative study design and purposive sampling procedure was used. Focus-group interviews were held with 35 men with diabetes and aged between 39 and 78 years. Fourteen participants were born in Arabic countries, 10 in former Yugoslavia and 11 in Sweden.

Findings.  Important factors for health were the ability to be occupied/employed and economically independent and, especially among Arabs and former Yugoslavians, sexual functioning. Swedes focused on heredity, lifestyle and management of diabetes, while non-Swedes claimed the influence of supernatural factors and emotional stress related to the role of being an immigrant and migratory experiences as factors related to development of diabetes and having a negative influence on health. Swedes and Arabs described health as ‘freedom from disease’ in contrast to many former Yugoslavians who described health as ‘wealth and the most important thing in life’. Knowledge about diabetes was limited among the men studied, but Arabs showed an active information-seeking behaviour compared with Swedes and former Yugoslavians. Non-Swedish respondents, particularly Arabs, had sought help from health care professionals to a greater extent than Swedes, who were more likely to use self-care measures.

Conclusion.  Being occupied/employed and having knowledge about the body and management of diabetes are important for positive health development. There are dissimilarities in beliefs about health and diabetes that influence self-care behaviour and health care seeking. Men's cultural backgrounds and spiritual beliefs need to be considered in diabetes care.