The social context of managing diabetes across the life span

Deborah J. Wiebe, Vicki Helgeson, Cynthia A. Berg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Diabetes self-management is crucial to maintaining quality of life and preventing long-term complications, and it occurs daily in the context of close interpersonal relationships. This article examines how social relationships are central to meeting the complex demands of managing Type I and Type 2 diabetes across the life span. The social context of diabetes management includes multiple resources, including family (parents, spouses), peers, romantic partners, and health care providers. We discuss how these social resources change across the life span, focusing on childhood and adolescence, emerging adulthood, and adulthood and aging. We review how diabetes both affects and is affected by key social relationships at each developmental period. Despite high variability in how the social context is conceptualized and measured across studies, findings converge on the characteristics of social relationships that facilitate or undermine diabetes management across the life span. These characteristics are consistent with both Interpersonal Theory and Self-Determination Theory, 2 organizing frameworks that we utilize to explore social behaviors that are related to diabetes management. Involvement and support from one's social partners, particularly family members, is consistently associated with good diabetes outcomes when characterized by warmth, collaboration, and acceptance. Underinvolvement and interactions characterized by conflict and criticism are consistently associated with poor diabetes outcomes. Intrusive involvement that contains elements of social control may undermine diabetes management, particularly when it impinges on self-efficacy. Implications for future research directions and for interventions that promote the effective use of the social context to improve diabetes self-management are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-538
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Adolescent
  • Couples
  • Diabetes management
  • Emerging adult
  • Family
  • Peers
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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