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What South Asians can do to prevent diabetes

By Amee Khamar Email By Amee Khamar
October 2011
What South Asians can do to prevent diabetes

Diabetes is an epidemic in the South Asian community. Compared to other populations, we have higher rates of the disorder, and an onset of it at lower body weights and ages.

There are a number of factors that may influence this phenomenon, including our traditional diet mixed with Western eating habits, lack of physical activity, and genetic factors. With the concern of the increasing number of South Asians with diabetes, researchers are developing a low cost, community based intervention program to prevent diabetes by addressing the diet and physical activity factors.

The Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) and the Global Diabetes Research Center (GDRC) at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health have worked in collaboration to develop the Diabetes Community Lifestyle Improvement Program (D-CLIP) to study the effects of a culturally specific and low cost lifestyle intervention for diabetes prevention in Chennai, India.

Nineteen thousand people were screened for risk of prediabetes, and 1,253 received further testing to confirm prediabetes. Six hundred overweight adults with confirmed prediabetes were included in the study and were randomly divided into two groups. The control group was given dietary and exercise advice and met with a physician and a dietician about diabetes prevention but had no further counseling. The intervention group was enrolled in weekly classes for six months. The classes had a structured curriculum focusing on education about nutrition, weight reduction, and physical activity.

Participants in the intervention group who remained at highest risk of developing diabetes at four months or later were prescribed metformin, a glucose-lowering drug. Of the 200 participants in the intervention group who have completed the study so far, greater than 80% have reported weight loss, shown improvement in glucose control and cholesterol levels, and have decreased blood pressure.

These preliminary results show a promising outlook for researchers at Emory University who are conducting a study called SHAPE- South Asian Health and Prevention Education. This study seeks to investigate the effectiveness of a lifestyle intervention on South Asians living in Atlanta. The intervention includes culturally-tailored classes on nutrition, South Asian diet, physical activity, and behavior change. We hope to see similar positive results in the Atlanta area which can result in broader low-cost diabetes prevention efforts. In the words of Dr K.M. Venkat Narayan of Emory, the principal investigator of both the SHAPE and D-CLIP studies, “Even though Indians are genetically predisposed to diabetes, this study proves that we can fight this genetic possibility with lifestyle modification.”

We are still in the process for recruiting for some of our classes. All participants must be over age 25 and prediabetic, as determined by free testing at Emory Hospital. Interested participants can contact us at 404.712.9309 or at SHAPE@emory.edu.

[Amee Khamar is a Global Epidemiology candidate with the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health]

[Gulshan Harjee, M.D., is a board certified internist in private practice with an emphasis on prevention. Please email your health and medical questions for consideration in this column to gharjee@comcast. net. The material in this column is of a general nature, and must not be construed as specific medical advice. This column rotates monthly along with the Fitness Lifestyle column by Aarti Patel.]

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