'We should change ourselves, but we can't': accounts of food and eating practices amongst British Pakistanis and Indians with type 2 diabetes

Ethn Health. 2008 Sep;13(4):305-19. doi: 10.1080/13557850701882910.


Objective(s): To look at food and eating practices from the perspectives of Pakistanis and Indians with type 2 diabetes, their perceptions of the barriers and facilitators to dietary change, and the social and cultural factors informing their accounts.

Method: Qualitative, interview study involving 23 Pakistanis and nine Indians with type 2 diabetes. Respondents were interviewed in their first language (Punjabi or English) by a bilingual researcher. Data collection and analysis took place concurrently with issues identified in early interviews being used to inform areas of investigation in later ones.

Results: Despite considerable diversity in the dietary advice received, respondents offered similar accounts of their food and eating practices following diagnosis. Most had continued to consume South Asian foods, especially in the evenings, despite their perceived concerns that these foods could be 'dangerous' and detrimental to their diabetes control. Respondents described such foods as 'strength-giving', and highlighted a cultural expectation to participate in acts of commensality with family/community members. Male respondents often reported limited input into food preparation. Many respondents attempted to balance the perceived risks of eating South Asian foodstuffs against those of alienating themselves from their culture and community by eating such foods in smaller amounts. This strategy could lead to a lack of satiation and is not recommended in current dietary guidelines.

Conclusions: Perceptions that South Asian foodstuffs necessarily comprise 'risky' options need to be tackled amongst patients and possibly their healthcare providers. To enable Indians and Pakistanis to manage their diabetes and identity simultaneously, guidelines should promote changes which work with their current food practices and preferences; specifically through lower fat recipes for commonly consumed dishes. Information and advice should be targeted at those responsible for food preparation, not just the person with diabetes. Community initiatives, emphasising the importance of healthy eating, are also needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diet therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / psychology
  • Diet, Diabetic / ethnology
  • Feeding Behavior / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • India / ethnology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pakistan / ethnology
  • Patient Compliance / ethnology
  • Scotland / epidemiology