Battling an epidemic

The obesity epidemic among American children has caused a tremendous increase in Type 2 diabetes, especially among minorities.
The Penn School of Nursing and Sayre High School are working to fight this trend through an intervention program that can help prevent the onset of the disease in at-risk children.

The partnership took root three years ago, when Penn Professor of Nursing of Children Terri Lipman developed a program in which Penn Nursing students taught Sayre students enrolled in a medical intake class how to accurately assess growth. Sayre students then used their skills to assess the growth of younger neighborhood students in the school’s Beacon after school program.

They discovered a large portion of the children measured were obese, and found that a third of the children had at least one diabetes risk factor.
In reponse, a diabetes intervention program was devised. Penn Nursing and Sayre students continued to measure growth and diabetes risk factors, but also assessed the younger students’ knowledge of healthy eating. Students said they did not know how to prepare a healthy snack, so they were taught how to do so. Students said their physical education classes were short on the physical, so professional dancers were brought in to dance with the children.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or improved through lifestyle changes. Lipman says minorities are disproportionately affected because they often lack safe neighborhoods to go outside and play and access to healthy fruits and vegetables.

“Parents may be working two jobs so they may not be home in the evening to cook dinner,” she says, “so children are eating fast food because that’s what’s easy and inexpensive for them to grab.”

Other intervention programs have attempted to address diabetes in minority communities, but most have failed. Lipman says she believes this program will succeed because it utilizes culturally relevant interventions. “I think the main thing we’re doing differently is we’re asking the community what needs to be done,” she says.

So far, the results are promising. The Sayre project has been funded for a fourth year. And the growth assessment program devised by Lipman is now being used in 65 sites around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America and Australia.

“Our program evaluates the measurer,” she says. “It’s not that we just go in and teach people how to measure, we evaluate the accuracy of their measurements.”

Originally published Sept. 4, 2008.

Originally published on September 4, 2008