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Keywords:

  • barriers to education;
  • children;
  • ethnic minorities;
  • immigrants;
  • nursing;
  • type 1 diabetes

Aim.  This paper reports an investigation to establish whether metabolic control is different in children and adolescents from ethnic minorities with type 1 diabetes compared with young Danish patients, and to learn about factors affecting their opportunities to achieve good metabolic control.

Background.  The prevalence of diabetes in children and adolescents from ethnic minorities in Denmark is increasing. Having a different ethnic background has frequently been described as a risk factor for poor metabolic control, but whether the risk is represented by the ethnicity and immigration itself or in combination with other factors is unclear.

Methods.  The study included data (gender, age, diabetes duration HbA1c, number of incidents of severe hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis) from a national register including 919 Danish and 58 children and adolescents from ethnic minorities, questionnaires to all 20 Danish paediatric diabetes centres and questionnaires to 38 families of other ethnic backgrounds completed by professional interpreters. The study was conducted in 2001–2002.

Results.  HbA1c was significantly higher in children and adolescents from ethnic minorities (mean 9·05 ± 1·4%) compared with Danish patients (mean 8·62 ± 1·3%; P = 0·018). There was no significant difference in HbA1c among the different ethnic groups, nor in the prevalence of severe hypoglycaemia or ketoacidosis. Patients from different ethnic minorities were unevenly distributed throughout the country, and generally the centres provided limited specialized knowledge and support. The questionnaires completed by the parents revealed limited schooling, lack of professional education and a major need for interpreters; these characteristics were especially prevalent among the mothers.

Conclusions.  Young patients from ethnic minorities have significantly poorer metabolic control compared with Danish patients, and patients with an immigrant background are seen as a vulnerable group with different needs and probably fewer chances of achieving good control. Special education for health care professionals as well as projects to improve methods, quality and knowledge should be encouraged in order to provide tailored support to members of individual ethnic groups. We recommend that the use of professional interpreters should become the gold standard in health care provision to all immigrant families.