Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends

To paraphrase the classic Beatles tune, we all get by with a little help from our friends. And now, preliminary research presented at the American Diabetes Association’s 71st Scientific Sessions in San Diego lends this lyric some scientific support: The study, conducted by investigators at the Diabetes Network of St. Louis, suggests that training volunteers who have diabetes to teach self-management practices to others with the condition results in long-term health benefits.

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The study involved using unpaid volunteers with diabetes who were trained in a 25- to 30-hour course to lead groups of their peers in sessions on different health topics. Common themes running throughout the sessions included goal-setting and progress toward goals. Overall, 45 volunteer-led groups met at 34 different sites with a total of more than 400 participants; of these participants, 186 agreed to take part in the study.

At the end of the two-year study period, the researchers found that people involved in these groups had achieved improvements in several health markers, including a reduction in A1C (a measure of blood glucose control) from an average of 7.38% at the beginning of the study to 7.18% at its conclusion. Average body-mass index in this group also fell from 34.0 to 33.7, while average systolic blood pressure was lowered by three points (from 141 mm Hg to 138 mm Hg) and average diastolic blood pressure fell from 78.2 mm Hg to 76.6 mm Hg. Additionally, the frequency of the participants’ blood glucose monitoring increased, their fruit and vegetable consumption rose, and physical activity increased among those who had started the trial with an A1C level above 8%.

In an interview with MedPage Today, David Kendall, MD, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, stated that “I think this is additional encouraging evidence that integrating diabetes care support into the community setting at low cost with limited resources has additional beneficial effects.” And Martin Abrahamson, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Joslin Clinic/Harvard Medical School in Boston indicated that “We think that these programs should go out into the community. We are looking into doing similar programs among our patients.”

To learn more about the research, read the article “ADA: Diabetics Lead Peers to Healthier Status” or see the study’s abstract from the 71st Scientific Sessions. And for more about peer-led support groups, check out the article “Peer Support, Education, and Mentoring,” by certified diabetes educator Martha Funnell.

Are there any self-management tips you would share if you were leading a diabetes support group? Is there anything you’d like to find out from another person who has diabetes? Let us know with a comment below!

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