Findings suggest a combination of lifestyle changes, education and support can help people better manage diabetes

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LOMA LINDA, CA — June 27, 2018 — A study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University in California found that Latinos with Type 2 diabetes who live in medically underserved areas benefit from a high-fiber, low-fat diet derived mostly from plant-based sources when paired with lifestyle support. The study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, showed a statistically significant reduction in mean hemoglobin A1c levels (baseline = 8.53; six months post-study = 7.31) for those who attended a five-week educational course and received ongoing support for six months versus those who did not receive the support.  

The study, "Impact of a Plant-Based Diet and Support on Mitigating Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Latinos Living in Medically Underserved Areas,” included 32 Latinos living in San Bernardino County with Type 2 diabetes whose A1c levels were above 6.4 percent. This area of California is characterized by a higher percentage of unemployed residents and those living in poverty than the state average, and is also ranked second to last in the state for diabetes-related mortalities.

“Managing diabetes is challenging even in the most ideal situations. Add unemployment, poverty, lack of community support, language barriers, and limited access to healthy foods and healthcare to the mix, and the odds to successful self-management become insurmountable," said Andrea Champlin, MPH assistant professor, Loma Linda University School of Nursing. "These study findings are important because they show that getting diabetes under control is possible – even in the face of structural barriers – through the right kind of diet and support from family and loved ones.”

Researchers used a novel approach by pairing the Diabetes Self-Management Education Program (DSMEP) with focus group intervention for seventeen of 32 people randomly assigned to the experimental (n=17) group. All participants attended a series of five 150-minute sessions held weekly for five weeks taught entirely in Spanish at community clinics and a church in San Bernardino County. Each session included education on diabetes pathophysiology, complications, treatments and the important ways that consumption of a mostly plant-based diet and exercise can help manage the condition. With the assistance of a Latino nutritional instructor, participants engaged in the preparation and sampling of low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based foods during the second hour of each session of the DSMEP.

Following successful completion of the classes, researchers then conducted a series of follow-up support focus groups at 1, 3, and 6 months after the DSMEP for those assigned to the experimental group. The purpose of these focus groups was to determine whether facilitated follow-up support, as an intervention strategy, improved experimental participant outcomes.

As a result of the intervention, there was a significant effect of diet on A1C levels such that the mean levels improved from baseline to postintervention for both the experimental and control groups. However, the experimental group demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in mean A1C levels when compared to the control group (P = .002). Both the experimental and control groups perceived an increase in quality of life following the intervention.

“There is an increasing body of evidence linking the benefits of a high-fiber, low-fat diet – primarily from plant-based sources – to the prevention and management of diabetes. What this study adds is the importance of including your entire network into the mix when it comes to making key lifestyle changes so they understand your needs and can be supportive in helping manage the condition,” said Champlin.

Loma Linda University Health

About Loma Linda University Health

Loma Linda University Health includes Loma Linda University's eight professional schools, Loma Linda University Medical Center's six hospitals and more than 900 faculty physicians located in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Established in 1905, Loma Linda University Health is a global leader in education, research and clinical care. It offers over 100 academic programs and provides quality health care to over 40,000 inpatients and 1.5 million outpatients each year. A Seventh-day Adventist organization, Loma Linda University Health is a faith-based health system with a mission "to continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ."

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