General Practice

Health beliefs and folk models of diabetes in British Bangladeshis: a qualitative study

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 28 March 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:978
  1. Trisha Greenhalgh (p.greenhalgh{at}, senior lecturer,
  2. Cecil Helman, senior lecturer,
  3. A Mu'min Chowdhury, research fellow
  1. Qualitative Research Unit, Joint Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, University College London Medical School/Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, Whittington Hospital, London N19 5NF
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Greenhalgh
  • Accepted 2 February 1998


Objective: To explore the experience of diabetes in British Bangladeshis, since successful management of diabetes requires attention not just to observable behaviour but to the underlying attitudes and belief systems which drive that behaviour.

Design: Qualitative study of subjects' experience of diabetes using narratives, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and pile sorting exercises. A new qualitative method, the structured vignette, was developed for validating researchers' understanding of primary level culture.

Subjects: 40 British Bangladeshi patients with diabetes, and 10 non-Bangladeshi controls, recruited from primary care.

Result: Several constructs were detected in relation to body image, cause and nature of diabetes, food classification, and knowledge of complications. In some areas, the similarities between Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi subjects were as striking as their differences. There was little evidence of a fatalistic or deterministic attitude to prognosis, and most informants seemed highly motivated to alter their diet and comply with treatment. Structural and material barriers to behaviour change were at least as important as “cultural” ones.

Conclusion: Bangladeshi culture is neither seamless nor static, but some widely held beliefs and behaviours have been identified. Some of these have a potentially beneficial effect on health and should be used as the starting point for culturally sensitive diabetes education.


    • Accepted 2 February 1998
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