A social media intervention was effective at improving blood glucose control in a group of low-income older adults with diabetes, according to a new study presented at the 81st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) — demonstrating that the effectiveness of digital tools to improve diabetes outcomes isn’t limited to younger people or those with higher incomes.
The goal of this small pilot study was to examine the feasibility and potential effectiveness of a social media-based diabetes education program in a group of low-income older Chinese immigrants with type 2 diabetes living in New York City. There were 30 study participants, mostly female (70%), married (63%), and with limited English proficiency (87%). The average age of participants was 61.2, and most reported a household income below $25,000 (84%) and an education level of high school or less (63%).
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Within two months, the researchers had recruited their desired number of 30 participants, and only two participants dropped out of the study over the next six months. The study involved participants watching a total of 24 “culturally and linguistically tailored” diabetes education videos over a period of 12 weeks using WeChat, an app that’s popular among Chinese immigrants in the United States. The overall completion rate of watching videos was 92%, which means that the researchers’ goals of 80% participant retention and an 80% video watch rate were both exceeded.
Diabetes education videos linked to reduced A1C
When it came to blood glucose control, the average A1C level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) of participants was 7.4% at the beginning of the study. After six months — about three months after the active video-watching part of the study had ended — the average A1C level had dropped to 6.8%, a significant reduction that involved crossing the threshold of 7.0% that the ADA recommends as a blood glucose goal for most people with diabetes. What’s more, 96% of participants expressed satisfaction with the virtual diabetes education program in a follow-up study, and every single person either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they preferred this format over face-to-face diabetes education visits.
This study suggests that stereotypes some people might have about older, lower-income, less educated, or immigrant populations with diabetes being less receptive to technology as part of their diabetes care simply aren’t true. What’s more, it shows that for people who don’t speak English well, using a video-based diabetes education program may be a viable and even preferred alternative to offering diabetes education sessions or classes in another language. Of course, this study’s results apply only to a specific small group of people, and more studies are needed to find out if a similar approach could work for other groups of people with diabetes who might be hard to reach through traditional diabetes education formats.
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