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  November 4, 2002

Multicultural Project To Inform
Students About Diabetes
By Sherry Fisher

Armed with more information, African American and Latino students at UConn will be well prepared to tackle diabetes, thanks to a $35,000 grant from the CIGNA Foundation.

The grant will fund a multicultural intervention project that is designed to raise awareness about diabetes and diabetes prevention among students, and have them, in turn, educate their families, says Cindy Adams, associate vice provost for multicultural and international affairs and a professor of allied health.

The Multicultural Diabetes Awareness Intervention Project, which will include a three-credit training course for students on diabetes, is a collaboration between the African American Cultural Center and the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, in partnership with the School of Allied Health. The project also includes a diabetes resource center, a diabetes peer support program, and a newsletter.

Willena Price, director of the African American Cultural Center, says more than 30 million African Americans have diabetes and "we have too many cases where people are not diagnosed early enough because they lack adequate medical coverage."

Through her interactions with students over the years, Price became aware of the need for support in coping with diabetes. That was one source of inspiration for the project, she says.

"We thought that starting with these first-generation college students would make a difference," Price says. "Many are already role models in their families, who look to them for leadership in all areas, including health and nutrition. We're hoping they will take what they've learned from the course and help educate their families."

Diabetes is also a health challenge among the Latino population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Latinos are diagnosed with diabetes at twice the rate of white Americans. They are also the most underinsured group in the United States.

Risk factors in developing diabetes include genetics, poor nutrition, obesity, and lack of exercise. Complications of diabetes include eye disease, kidney failure, amputation and heart damage.

James Parker, a junior majoring in communications, has diabetes, as do his mother, his father, an uncle, and a nephew. Parker, who is an African American, learned that he had diabetes at age 16 after he lost 25 pounds in a short time. He thinks the class will be helpful to college students and their families.

"College students don't eat properly or exercise regularly because we're always on the go," says Parker. He also notes that many younger children would benefit from information passed along on diabetes. "A lot of kids just sit home and watch TV after school," he says. "They get in that comfort zone of staying at home and not exercising, and that's not healthy. If you start them off getting out exercising and eating correctly, they can avoid this."

According to Dr. Andrea Gelzer, vice president for health policy at CIGNA HealthCare, the project could be a model for other institutions. "Cultural competency in health care education is very important," she says. We think the UConn project could be used as a 'best practice' around the country."

The undergraduate course, to be offered on a pilot basis next fall, will explore the causes, early warning signs, risk factors, and preventive strategies for diabetes. It will also provide a foundation in anatomy, physiology, and the psychological ramification s of the disease.

"The course will be designed so that students will change their own behaviors, and make interventions to improve health behaviors within their extended families," Adams says. As part of their final grade, students will be required to teach their families about diabetes.

While it will be open to all students, the course will target African American and Latino students. Price says students will be 'recruited' from the African American Cultural Center and the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center to take the course. She expects a high level of interest in it, because the disease hits close to home.

"There are many students who live with diabetes on a daily basis," Price says. "They have a parent or grandparent with diabetes and have a vested interest in knowing more about how to prevent the disease."

Adams says the project may inspire students to enter the health care field. "It might interest some in a health care career," she says.

The peer support program will provide one-on-one support for students who have diabetes or who have family members with diabetes.

Dr. Pouran Faghri, professor of allied health, and Sally Fraley, a master's degree candidate in health promotion, collaborated on the grant proposal and are also developing the project.

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