“To Fight Off Diabetes, Latina Women Find Power in a Group”

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The Story

“To Fight Off Diabetes, Latina Women Find Power in a Group”
by Amanda B. Keener
NPR Shots, August 18, 2016

The Pitch

Dear Nancy,

I’m a freelance writer based in Winston Salem, NC who covers health and biomedical research and I recently learned of a local story that I think may be good for Shots.

Diabetes researchers have had good evidence for nearly 15 years that lifestyle changes are the best way to keep a person with prediabetes from developing full-blown disease. In 2002, a landmark study showed that individualized one-on-one meetings and group sessions promoting healthy eating and exercise brought diabetes risk down by 58 percent, while the major diabetes drug metformin brought it down 31 percent.

The success of the nation-wide Diabetes Prevention Program impressed Wake Forest University epidemiologist, Mara Vitolins and anxious to find ways to spread the program to communities like her own in Winston Salem, North Carolina. There was just one snag. The program’s cost came in around $3,000 per study participant. This is a major obstacle to applying this research in the types of communities that need it the most. In 2007, Vitolins and her colleagues starting testing a more affordable and sustainable version of the program on a local scale. They put more emphasis on group discussions in public spaces like parks and recreation centers, and they reduced the frequency of one-on-one consultation. Their Healthy Living Partnerships (HELP) study helped participants lose weight and improve glucose control while bringing costs down to $800 per person (At 301 recruits, the study was too small the measure effects on diabetes incidence).

As they put their results together, Vitolins’ team realized they had very few Latino participants. Latinos make up about 15 percent of Winston Salem’s population. Vitolins says that as a group, Latinos tend to be at risk for type 2 diabetes earlier in life and at lighter weights, which meant a large group of people in her own city were being overlooked. So she designed another iteration of the prevention program, one done completely in Spanish and is sensitive to potential barriers keeping Latinos from participating, such as citizenship status. Since 2014, the new program, called La Communidad, has recruited 214 participates through health care workers from their own communities. They meet wherever there’s a safe and convenient environment, including churches. Before analyzing their data, Vitolins’ team hopes to recruit about a dozen more. In the meantime, they are learning how to adapt the HELP program design to best suite this population and potentially other underserved groups in the future. Vitolins says that unlike the YMCA diabetes prevention program, the HELP protocol is a research study and community program combined that employs health care workers rather than training YMCA staff that may turnover before the program ends.

Vitolins said she can put me in touch with some of the health care workers moderating the La Communidad group meetings and that I may be able to attend a meeting and possibly take photos.

About me: I’ve been covering biomedical research as a freelance journalist for over two years. I’ve interned with Nature Medicine and The Scientist and I’ve written several freelance news and feature stories for both publications. I’ve also written for Nova Next and Everyday Health. Here are some clips that are similar in length/format to Shots: http://pbli.sh/gTG7http://pbli.sh/hQnlhttp://pbli.sh/iQqM (attached).

Thanks for considering,


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