A decline in diabetes

Heather Kitzman-Ulrich
Heather Kitzman-Ulrich

By Alex Branch

The surprising announcement that new cases of diabetes in the United States are declining is good news but reinforces the need for greater prevention in minority communities, said Dr.  Heather Kitzman-Ulrich, a UNT Health Science Center researcher.

There were 1.4 million new cases of diabetes in 2014, down from 1.7 million in 2008 – the first sustained decline in about 25 years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. But while diabetes rates dropped for whites, a statistically significant change was not detected among African-Americans and Hispanics, groups specially targeted by UNTHSC education, prevention and research efforts.

“The report indicates progress in the overall number of new cases, and that’s a good thing,” said Kitzman-Ulrich, PhD, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Community Health. “But it also shows that a disparity still exists in African-American and Hispanic populations where access to health care, health resources and health literacy remain a significant problem.”

Dr. Kitzman-Ulrich is currently conducting a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study to evaluate a novel approach to obesity and diabetes prevention. She’s teamed up with seven predominately African-American churches to determine if a faith-enhanced adaption of the Diabetes Prevention Program improves success among African-American women.

The 16-week curriculum includes pastor-delivered sermons that integrate elements of each week’s material, and church members who volunteer to lead prevention classes for portions of the congregation.  Body measurements, lifestyle behaviors, and physiological measures such as blood lipids and blood pressure are being monitored to measure success.

“Many of the women had pre-diabetes and didn’t even know it,” Dr. Kitzman-Ulrich said. “We’ve had an excellent retention rate and the women are making healthy lifestyle changes.

“It’s an example of the Health Science Center using innovative and collaborative strategies to reach underserved populations.”

Other UNTHSC efforts include:

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