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UCD School of Sociology

Scoil na Socheolaíochta UCD

Shane O'Donnell

Thesis Title: ‘Walking a Tight Rope’: social class differences in the experiences of the day-to-day management of type 2 diabetes in Ireland

Supervisor: Dr Kieran Allen

Funding: Scholarship provided by Merke Sharpe and Dohme

Biographical Note:

Diabetes has emerged as one of the key public health threats of the 21st century, currently affecting 8% of the population of Ireland. If improperly treated or undiagnosed, diabetes can lead to an array of complications, ranging from leg amputations and blindness, to kidney failure and stroke. However, like many other chronic conditions, the burden of this illness is not distributed equally across the population and disproportionally affects the poor and economically disadvantaged. According to the institute of Public Health in Ireland, those occupying the lowest rung of the social ladder are approximately two and a half times more likely to die prematurely from diabetes compared to those at the top. 

Through carrying out qualitative interviews and exploring differences in the live experience of both lower and higher socioeconomic groups with diabetes, the study seeks to identify and map out the various mechanisms which account for the inequalities reflected in these statistics. In so doing, the aim is to challenge some of the official as well as popular discourses around diabetes, in which it is often portrayed as a ‘lifestyle disease’ – the result of poor personal choices made by individuals. It will also examine the solutions currently being brought forward to deal with the epidemic, namely empowering people to take control of their illness through education initiatives of various kinds.

Finally it will ask: are current strategies in place to deal with the epidemic effective, and ultimately how can the lives of people with diabetes be improved in order to minimise their risk of complications and maximise their life expectancy?

In 2007 I graduated from University College Dublin with a primary degree in Social Science (Sociology and Social Policy).  In 2009 I completed a Master’s in the Sociology of Health and Illness (1st class honours) in University College Dublin, before commencing my PhD in January 2010.

Conference Presentations:

“Obesity and Diabetes Rising: how economic belt-tightening in recessionary times may lead to expanded waist lines and other health problems in future years”, CIISN seminar series, University College Dublin, April 2011.