This study examined the respective contributions of the demographics, medical variables and alexithymia characteristics of young diabetics to their glycaemic control. The goal was to replicate the role of the ‘difficulty describing feelings’ factor of alexithymia in the prediction of poor glycaemic control as has been found in adult diabetic populations.
The study included 45 type 1 diabetic children, aged 8–12 years (24 girls and 21 boys). Participants completed a sociodemographic questionnaire and provided medical information on their diabetes. HbA1c values (glycated haemoglobin), and the number of severe hypoglycaemic episodes and hospitalizations for hyperglycaemia, were collected for the previous 12 months (3 months for severe hypoglycaemias). Alexithymia characteristics were measured by means of the Alexithymia Questionnaire for children.
Hierarchical regression analyses confirmed that both demographic (marital status and parental education; P <0.05) and medical (duration of diabetes and daily self-monitoring of blood glucose frequency; P <0.01) variables are associated with HbA1c levels. More important, one alexithymia factor (difficulty describing feelings) was found to be an additional predictor over and above the other variables (P <0.01), explaining an additional 12% of the total variance in HbA1c levels.
Confirming results already observed in diabetic adults, the present findings show, for the first time, that children who have difficulties in expressing their feelings to others are more at risk of poor glycaemic control. In future, it will be useful to identify the diabetic young people who have such difficulties and to consider interventions designed specifically for them.