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Health disparities among patients with diabetes can be improved by new approaches, insights

Patient- and clinician-focused mobile technology improves outcomes; patient support programs utilizing community health workers had positive impact on care; and new insights indicate racial/ethnic differences that impact the development of type 1 diabetes.

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Health disparities in the U.S., including inequalities in the delivery of care and access to care across various racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, are of widespread concern, particularly in people with diabetes who require continuous, regular health care to effectively manage their disease.

Such disparities can greatly impact patients’ overall well-being and may lead to serious complications. Three studies that assessed ways to potentially decrease health disparities among people with diabetes were presented today at the American Diabetes Association’s 77th Scientific Sessions at the San Diego Convention Center.

Mobile health technology and Community Health Workers (CHWs) are two emerging strategies increasingly being used throughout the U.S. by health care teams. In the study, “Community Health Workers, Mobile Health, or Both for Management of Medicaid Patients with Diabetes” (365-OR), these approaches were evaluated to determine potential methods to improve diabetes management outcomes among minority patients. CHWs and the use of a mobile health technology app (mHealth) were tested both separately and together among 166 Medicaid patients with type 2 diabetes who receive care in Internal Medicine practices or diabetes clinics at three medical centers in Washington, D.C. At baseline, the patients had an average HbA1c level of 10.5 percent, and they were not meeting three or more of 13 wellness goals established by the study.

Patients in the 12-month study were randomly assigned to three different groups. Group 1 consisted of 56 patients who used an app—the Voxiva Care4Life (C4L) mHealth system. The C4L app helped patients manage their health with features that kept track of frequent measurements of blood sugar and blood pressure levels; provided alerts to remind them to take medications and keep doctor appointments; and offered tips on nutrition and exercise. Group 2 included 56 patients who were assigned CHWs. The CHWs were either educators or lay people who were integrated with the medical teams at each center and helped patients by providing services such as connecting them with primary care doctors and visits to see them; making home visits to help coordinate care and access to food resources and medications; providing language interpretation; helping to identify and address barriers to care; and advocating to ensure the patients received appropriate and culturally tailored health care services. Group 3 had 54 patients who were assigned both a CHW and the use of the C4L mHealth system/app.

Study endpoints included wellness/clinical goals, HbA1c levels, self-care behavior and diabetes distress. Prior to completion of the study, just 6 percent (n=11) of patients withdrew from the program.

Results indicated that within the 12 months, patients in all three groups had achieved on average 1.3 additional wellness/clinical goals from when they enrolled in the study. Additionally, HbA1c levels improved across all of the groups, and data showed that patients decreased their HbA1c levels by an average of 1.3 percent (p<0.0001). Overall, 30 percent of the patients achieved HbA1c levels of less than 8 percent—17 percent of Group 1 patients met that goal; 29 percent of the Group 2 patients; and 43 percent of the Group 3 patients; (p=0.02 vs. C4L alone). Significant improvements were also observed in all three groups of patients for numbers of hospitalizations (p=0.02); and numbers of urgent care visits (p=0.03). Diabetes distress also decreased in all groups (p<0.0001; NS between groups).

“Diabetes self-care is complex and can be a burden for many patients,” said study author Michelle Magee, MD, associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University, and the Director of the MedStar Diabetes Institute.  “When we provided the support of a CHW or a mobile health application, patients with type 2 diabetes experiencing challenges with their self-care were able to achieve important improvement in health measures and a reduction in distress secondary to living with this chronic condition. Evidence to show both the potential impact of CHWs and the potential use of mobile health applications to improve health outcomes, as detailed in this study, are needed in order for health care systems to comfortably invest dollars to these new patient support approaches. Our study shows that these two strategies can significantly improve patient health. In fact, the reduction in A1C levels in our study was as positive a change as what we typically see with the addition of another antihyperglycemic medication to patients’ treatment regimens. Additionally, the resulting increase in meeting wellness goals is important for patients’ daily health and for preventing long-term diabetes complications. And, reducing hospital admissions and acute care visits are important outcomes from both the patient and health economics perspectives.”

While the approach of combining a community health worker and mobile health technology was successful in this population of Medicaid patients, the strategies developed were designed to be adaptable for use by health care teams and the patients they care for at multiple locations. The study team recommends additional research into which programs are most successful and how best to expand them for broad implementation.

Teaching clinicians how best to assist patients with diabetes and their caregivers is an important aspect of continuing medical education. While many research studies and courses explain how clinical factors influence glycemic control, translating that knowledge into a patient care setting is often challenging. This study, “A Social Media Learning Collaborative Approach to Competency-Based Training in Diabetes” (368-OR), emphasized personalizing therapeutic options to fit the individual needs of patients by developing an online, case-based, interactive training toolkit. The study aimed to facilitate the interpretation of research results and to determine how patient-centered factors such as age, gender, socio-economic status, education, race and ethnicity, body weight and current glycemic control can impact the effectiveness of various diabetes treatments.

The study investigators pooled data from 19 clinical trials with a total of 6,954 patients on 38 diabetes regimens from 1,002 clinics, in addition to using Electronic Health Records from 233,627 diabetes patients, to estimate the odds that a particular patient would achieve good glycemic control with different treatment regimens, based upon individual personal characteristics.

Subsequently, eight of the 19 randomized clinical trials contained full quality-of-life and patient satisfaction data from 2,927 patients from 413 clinics. Researchers modeled the probability of achieving HbA1c levels of less than 8 percent and less than 7 percent using 12 regimens of insulin and oral agents alone or in combination during a 24 to 52 week period. Of the 2,927 patients analyzed, 22.6 percent had type 1 diabetes and an average HbA1c level of 8.0; and 77.4 percent of the patients had type 2 diabetes and an average HbA1C level of 9.2 percent.

The primary endpoint at 52 weeks (one year) was HbA1c levels of 7.7 percent. Patients’ socio-demographic information was assessed, and treatment satisfaction questionnaires and quality of life assessments were completed throughout the study. Outcomes of HbA1c levels of less than 8 percent and less than 7 percent were modeled with logistic regression, and resulting estimators were used to develop benchmarking calculators using WebOS, Android, iOS and Windows compatible WordPress software. Calculators were then tested and optimized within case-based learning exercises. During the exercises, the clinician could simultaneously modify patient characteristics to explore and visualize how individual patient profiles might influence the probability of reaching target glycemic goals.

The study determined that the interactive learning collaboratives tested could be beneficial in translating diabetes research findings into clinical practice, while providing a novel approach to competency-based training that meets both the American Diabetes Association’s and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists’ clinical care guidelines.

“Relying on the published literature and more passive online courses to translate research findings into concepts that can be applied in practice is not sufficient, and often does not result in knowledge retention or a change in behavior,” said study author Donald C. Simonson, MD, MPH, ScD of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. “Additionally, data on the effectiveness of various diabetes treatments are typically based upon the average effect estimated for a specific group of individuals in randomized clinical trials. However, there is large variability in treatment response that is not well quantified. Some patients respond very well to particular therapies, while others patient do not; and much of this variability can be explained by the personal characteristics of the patients. Our research emphasizes personalizing therapeutic options to fit the individual needs of patients so that clinicians can be made aware of how patients differ in their response to the same treatment based on various patient-centered demographic, socio-economic, behavioral and quality-of-life characteristics.”

The study group plans to continue refining the predictive models and intends to help communicate, disseminate and implement their findings and toolkit into practice by extending the social media learning collaborative to additional practitioners.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is now recognized by scientists to be heterogeneous, meaning it can be caused by varying factors and different genes. Understanding the differences in its causes among individuals of different racial/ethnic groups can help researchers and clinicians design improved prevention strategies and treatments. The study, “Ethnic Differences in Progression to Type 1 Diabetes in Relatives at Risk,” (285-OR) examined if there are racial/ethnic differences in how T1D develops by comparing the progression of islet autoimmunity and T1D among races/ethnicities in at-risk individuals.

Researchers used data from TrialNet’s Pathway to Prevention Study screening program, which offers screening for relatives of patients with T1D in the hopes of identifying the risk for type 1 diabetes up to 10 years before symptoms actually appear.

The trial evaluated data of 4,227 TrialNet Pathway to Prevention participants between 1 and 49 years old who did not have diabetes and were autoantibody [Ab] positive relatives of patients with T1D, and followed them prospectively. The trial participants consisted of the following racial/ethnic groups: 12 percent were Hispanic/Latino; 3 percent were African American of non-Hispanic origin; 1.4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islanders of non-Hispanic origin; 79.3 percent were white of non-Hispanic origin; and 4.3 percent were “other,” non-Hispanic origin.

The analysis indicates that race and ethnicity play a role in how T1D develops, and the study specifically demonstrated that the detrimental effect of obesity on T1D risk may differ by race/ethnicity. T1D develops in stages, where individuals first progress from having a single autoantibody (i.e. marker of T1D) to having multiple autoantibodies, and later develop symptoms of T1D. The participants of Hispanic/Latino origin had a 40 percent lower risk of progressing from single to multiple diabetes autoantibodies, compared to the non-Hispanic white participants (HR=0.59, 95% CI=0.40-0.88, p=0.01). Among lean children younger than 12 years of age with multiple positive autoantibodies, the Hispanic/Latino group had half the risk of developing T1D compared to the non-Hispanic white group (HR=0.50, 95% CI=0.27-0.93, p=0.028). However, in this age group, Hispanic/Latino children were more susceptible to the effect of overweight and obesity, which increased the risk of developing T1D by 34 percent among non-Hispanic whites (HR=1.34, 95% CI=1.01-1.79, p=0.046), but quadrupled the risk in the Hispanic/Latino (HR=2.03, 95% CI: 1.25-3.31, p=0.004).

“The differences in type 1 diabetes development among races/ethnicities discovered in this study are striking,” said Mustafa Tosur, MD, a fellow in the pediatric diabetes and endocrinology division of Texas Children’s Hospital at Baylor College of Medicine. “Especially of interest is the dramatic differential effect of being overweight/obese for Hispanic/Latino children younger than 12 years of age, compared to non-Hispanic white children in the same age group. The research demonstrates that racial and ethnic differences should be taken into consideration when counseling family members who are at-risk of developing type 1 diabetes, and when designing preventive care and treatment options. Considering the obesity epidemic in children, which is more prevalent among minorities, and the frequency of type 1 diabetes is growing most in Hispanics in the U.S., these findings have important public health implications.”

Tosur noted that because the study participants were autoantibody-positive relatives of patients, the results of the study are not necessarily representative of the general population. The study team plans to conduct further research on possible reasons for the differences among the various racial/ethnic groups.

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How to help children build a growth mindset

Consider these three tips to help children build a growth mindset.

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A new year is a perfect time to consider the habits you want to keep and the ones you’d like to develop. One resolution to consider is helping your children develop a growth mindset this year.

“We know one of the greatest boosts to parents’ confidence over the past year came from knowing their children’s whole selves are being nurtured, and we want to see that trend continue,” said Carter Peters from KinderCare Learning Center’s education team. “A growth mindset helps children try new things despite fear of failure. It’s the kind of thinking that allows inventors and creative thinkers to get excited about trying something new and ensures they have the cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills to work through hurdles.”

Adults can often easily spot when children are engaged in creative thinking and prideful of their work, but that confidence may be lost as failures turn into insecurities. By nurturing a growth mindset and showing children they can learn and develop new skills in any area, it better sets them up for long-term success.

Consider these three tips to help children build a growth mindset:

Photo by Markus Spiske from Unsplash.com

1. Praise effort

It’s easy to fall into the habit of praising successes. However, praising effort encourages children to try new things without the fear of failing. It also teaches children personal growth and achievement are possible, even if their overall effort wasn’t a success.

“Young children often get excited to try something new,” Peters said. “By praising effort and showing children they’ll still be loved and valued despite the outcome, you can reframe how they approach challenges and teach them that difficult doesn’t mean impossible.”

2. Encourage the process

People often withhold praise until there’s a result, which leads children to hurriedly scribble a picture to hold up for a “good job” instead of taking time to focus on their efforts. When children know adults will encourage them during the process, instead of only upon the achievement, they’re more likely to try new things or master a new skill. For example, try providing encouragement such as, “I can see you’re focused on drawing that tree. It looks so lifelike because you’re putting so much thought into what you’re doing.” Once their project is finished, continue the encouragement by hanging up their artwork or school projects in a prominent place.

3. Model a growth mindset

You can model a growth mindset for children by narrating your actions when you are facing a challenge: “I am having a difficult time putting this shelf together, but it’s OK. I’ll take a break then read the instructions again.” Remove negative words from your vocabulary, such as “I can’t” or “I’m stupid.” Even when you are joking, children may not be able to tell the difference. You can also ask your children to join you in problem-solving. Take time to hear their ideas and try them even if you think they won’t work. This not only supports the development of their growth mindset, but the quality time and encouragement reinforces their sense of self-worth and builds confidence.

For more tips to help children develop a growth mindset, visit kindercare.com.

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Signs of a Healthy Marriage

Although there are many different ways to define a healthy marriage, these three qualities are essential for any lasting and fulfilling relationship.

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A healthy marriage is built on trust, respect, and communication. Couples with these qualities in their relationship tend to be more satisfied with their marriage and overall life. They also report feeling closer to their partner and having stronger well-being. With 2.3 out of every 1000 people in the US experiencing divorce in 2022, it is important to frequently check in on the health of your marriage.

Although there are many different ways to define a healthy marriage, these three qualities are essential for any lasting and fulfilling relationship.

Signs of a Healthy Marriage

A healthy marriage is built on trust, communication, and mutual respect. If you and your partner can effectively communicate and share a mutual level of respect, then your relationship is off to a good start. Trust is also important in a healthy marriage, as it allows you and your partner to feel secure in your relationship and rely on each other.

Many other signs can indicate whether or not a marriage is healthy. For example, couples who can spend quality time together and enjoy shared activities usually do well. Couples who can openly discuss their relationship with each other and work through difficulties together are also more likely to have a happy and healthy marriage. Finally, marriages, where both partners feel like they can be themselves without judgment from their spouse tend to be the strongest and most lasting.

Freedom to be yourself

In a healthy marriage, partners feel free to be themselves. They don’t have to put on a facade or pretend to be someone they’re not. They can be open and honest with each other and feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and desires.

Both partners should pursue their interests and hobbies without compromising or sacrificing for the sake of the relationship. There’s no need to agree on everything – in fact, it’s healthy to have some separate interests – but overall, both partners should feel like they’re able to be true to themselves within the relationship.

Lots of good communication

In a healthy marriage, partners can communicate effectively. It means expressing needs and wants and listening and responding to what the other person is saying. There are mutual respect’s opinions, even if there are disagreements. Couples in a healthy marriage feel comfortable communicating with each other about both the good and the bad.

Good sex life

A good sex life can be a major sign of a healthy marriage. A lack of sexual activity can be an early warning sign that something is wrong in the relationship. Often, couples who have a good sex life are more connected emotionally and physically. They are also more likely to trust each other and communicate openly.

Trust in each other

In any relationship, trust is essential. Without trust, there is no foundation for the relationship to grow. In a marriage, trust is even more important. Trusting your spouse means you feel confident in their ability to support you emotionally and financially. It also means that you feel safe sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with them.

When you trust your spouse, you know they have your best interests. You feel comfortable being yourselves around each other and sharing your hopes, dreams, and fears. Openness and honesty in your relationship allow you to be vulnerable with each other. This vulnerable honesty creates a deeper level of intimacy in your marriage.

When you trust each other, you can be more forgiving when mistakes are made. You know that everyone makes mistakes and that nobody is perfect. You also understand that your spouse is human and capable of making mistakes like anyone else. If they make a mistake, you are more likely to forgive them because you know they are sorry and will try not to make the same mistake again.

Trust is one of the most important foundations of a healthy marriage. If you want your marriage to thrive, build trust in each other.

A successful, strong marriage takes work, but with communication, trust, respect, vulnerability, and affection as its core components, you can together create a partnership that will be long-lasting.

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Obesity linked to macular degeneration

Immune cells are also activated when the body is exposed to stressors such as excess fat in obesity, making being overweight the number one non-genetic risk factor for developing AMD, after smoking.

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A Canadian study published in the prestigious journal Science elucidates a new molecular mechanism that may cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The research at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosement, in Montreal, shows how life stressors such as obesity reprogram immune system cells and make them destructive to the eye as it ages.

“We wanted to know why some people with a genetic predisposition develop AMD while others are spared,” said Université de Montréal ophtalmology professor Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha, who led the study by his postdoctoral fellow Dr. Masayuki Hata.

“Although considerable effort has been invested in understanding the genes responsible for AMD, variations and mutations in susceptibility genes only increase the risk of developing the disease, but do not cause it,” Sapieha explained.

“This observation suggests that we must gain a better understanding of how other factors such as environment and lifestyle contribute to disease development.”

AMD is a major cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affected approximately 196 million people in 2020. It comes in two forms:

  • dry AMD, characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits at the back of the eye and the death of nerve cells in the eye,
  • and wet AMD, which is characterized by diseased blood vessels that develop in the most sensitive part of the sight-generating tissue, called the macula.

Contact with pathogens

It is already known that the immune system in the eye of a person with AMD becomes dysregulated and aggressive. Normally, immune cells keep the eye healthy, but contact with pathogens such as bacteria and viruses can make them go awry.

At the same time, immune cells are also activated when the body is exposed to stressors such as excess fat in obesity, making being overweight the number one non-genetic risk factor for developing AMD, after smoking.

In their study, Sapieha and Hata used obesity as a model to accelerate and exaggerate the stressors experienced by the body throughout life.

They found that transient obesity or a history of obesity leads to persistent changes in the DNA architecture within immune cells, making them more susceptible to producing inflammatory molecules.

“Our findings provide important information about the biology of the immune cells that cause AMD and will allow for the development of more tailored treatments in the future,” said Hata, now an ophthalmology professor at Kyoto University, in Japan.

The researchers hope their discovery will lead other scientists to broaden their interest beyond obesity-related diseases to other diseases characterized by increased neuroinflammation, including Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

About this study

“Past history of obesity triggers persistent epigenetic changes in innate immunity and exacerbates neuroinflammation,” by Mike Sapieha and Masayuki Hata, was published in Science.

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