Parents of children with Type 1 diabetes turn to the Internet for support

By Morgan Sherburne

For parents, thinking about their child’s disease rarely stops at the clinic. They carry their concerns home with them.

In fact, most parents of children with Type 1 diabetes use Internet forums to gain knowledge of their child’s disease and to find social support among other parents, University of Florida researchers have found. They examined how parents used these forums in a study published online ahead of print in the journal Pediatric Diabetes.

UF researcher Amanda Balkhi, a doctoral candidate in the PHHP department of clinical and health psychology, surveyed 102 parents for the study. Of the 102 parents, 38 percent reported social support as the biggest benefit of the forums. Thirty-one percent cited the knowledge they gained there as the primary reason they used the forums and 22 percent of parents cited a mix of support and knowledge as draws to the forum.

“We don’t know, we can’t know and we’ll never know if these forums are filled with good information or bad information because if we publish this today, come tomorrow, the information in the forums will be different,” Balkhi said.

But the study’s findings can better establish how much these forums are impacting parents’ care of their children.

“There have been studies about the impact of forums on adults with Type 1 diabetes,” Balkhi said. “This is the first study we know of that looks at the impact that diabetes online communities have on parents.”

The researchers found that the forum-users are knowledgeable. The researchers’ questionnaire included the Michigan Research and Training Center’s Diabetes Knowledge Test. The parents’ average score was 89 percent.

This is good: The researchers also found that most parents were using the information they found in the forums to help care for their child.

“The big takeaway from this study is just the sheer amount of parents that trusted the information found in the online forums and used it,” Balkhi said. “Eighty-four percent of parents said, ‘I’m going to take this information and use it to care for my child.’ That’s a pretty big impact.”

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