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Open Access Research article

"I am pregnant and my husband has diabetes. Is there a risk for my child?" A qualitative study of questions asked by email about the role of genetic susceptibility to diabetes

Suzanne CM van Esch13*, Martina C Cornel23 and Frank J Snoek13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Psychology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 Department of Clinical Genetics, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:688  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-688

Published: 10 November 2010



Diabetes Mellitus is a global health problem. Scientific knowledge on the genetics of diabetes is expanding and is more and more utilised in clinical practice and primary prevention strategies. Health consumers have become increasingly interested in genetic information. In the Netherlands, the National Genetic Research and Information Center provides online information about the genetics of diabetes and thereby offers website visitors the opportunity to ask a question per email. The current study aims at exploring people's need of (additional) information about the role of inheritance in diabetes. Results may help to tailor existing clinical and public (online) genetic information to the needs of an increasing population at risk for diabetes.


A data base with emailed questions about diabetes and inheritance (n = 172) is used in a secondary content analysis. Questions are posted in 2005-2009 via a website providing information about more than 600 inheritable disorders, including all diabetes subtypes. Queries submitted were classified by contents as well as persons' demographic profiles.


Questions were received by diabetes patients (49%), relatives (30%), and partners (21%). Questioners were relatively young (54.8% ≤ 30 years) and predominantly female (83%). Most queries related to type 1 diabetes and concerned topics related to (future) pregnancy and family planning. Questioners mainly asked for risk estimation, but also clarifying information (about genetics of diabetes in general) and advice (mostly related to family planning) was requested. Preventive advice to reduce own diabetes risk was hardly sought.


Genetic information on diabetes provided by professionals or public health initiatives should address patients, as well as relatives and partners. In particular women are receptive to genetic information; they worry about the diabetes related health of (future) offspring. It seems important that information on the contribution of genetics to type 1 diabetes is more readily available. Considering the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes with strong evidence for a genetic predisposition, more effort seems needed to promote awareness around familial clustering and primary prevention.