Background Perceptions of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and future risk of Type 2 diabetes (T2D) have previously been explored in traditional qualitative research interviews among women who have had GDM. These findings are exposed to possible presentation bias resulting from the presence of the researcher and from bias inherent in relying upon a small self-selected sample of women who are motivated to participate in research and/or may have a particular interest in GDM. An alternative research approach is to opportunistically use ‘found’ data that is spontaneously user-generated within online discussion forums. The objective of this study was to explore the perceptions and beliefs surrounding GDM suggested within online parental-support forums for parents, that could have implications for future T2D prevention.
Methods A search was carried out using the Google search engine to identify online discussion forums that could be of relevance to women with GDM in the UK. We screened these 10 (out of 120 forums) to identify those containing relevant data that could be considered public, and selected Mumsnet and Netmums to be included in the study. They were comprehensively searched using the search term ‘gestational diabetes or GD’, and relevant posts from 1/1/2017 – 14/2/2019 were identified. Multiple messages from the same person were linked together as a single unit, analogous to a research participant, using an anonymised identifier. A theoretical framework derived previously was used to code and sort the data using framework approach.
Results A total of 646 posts in 137 threads from 282 unique users with current/previous GDM were analysed. Five prominent themes were identified: Emotional response to and understanding of diagnosis; personal responsibility; consequences and impact of GDM; lifestyle change; and Type 2 diabetes. Users’ discussions around these themes highlighted three implicit ‘messages’ regarding GDM: that GDM is not a serious or even real diagnosis and the consequences are not severe; that women need not take personal responsibility for GDM; and there are minimal implications for T2D prevention.
Discussion These (partially) subliminal messages will all mitigate against efforts to encourage women to change their lifestyles for future T2D prevention. This is worrying as online networks have huge reach, and are viewed by millions of visitors who don’t necessarily post themselves, but are signposted to these sites when they pose questions to global search engines. The data analysed were generated in a naturalistic setting and are perhaps closer than traditional qualitative research to women’s real perceptions and beliefs surrounding GDM.
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