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Program empowers communities to overpower diabetes

February 18, 2019 By Katie Gerhards

Professor Eva Vivian, in the School of Pharmacy’s Pharmacy Practice Division, and fourth-year PharmD student Beatriz Jimenez Cadilla at a training for Peers Empowering Peers coaches at Cavalry Baptist Church in Milwaukee. UW School of Pharmacy

From February through June, we will be highlighting the ways that UW–Madison changes lives for the better throughout the state of Wisconsin. February’s theme is Improving Health. Watch for more at #UWChangesLives on social media. And here’s how you can help.

A UW–Madison program aims to give African American community members in Milwaukee strategies to maintain healthy lifestyles that will help prevent and/or manage Type 2 diabetes.

Peers Empowering Peers participants attend a weekly meeting, complete with a wellness walk and a healthy lunch, and peer coaches follow up with participants to gauge how the program is changing lifestyles and to provide more support. Participants who complete the 16-week program will then have the chance to serve as a peer coach for future sessions.

“I hope this type of program is replicated in other areas of Milwaukee and around Wisconsin, where people can reach each other within their community and provide support,” says Eva Vivian, a UW–Madison School of Pharmacy professor. “Empowering community members to promote wellness is an irreplaceable strategy to improve the health of the community as a whole.”

Vivian won a grant from UW–Madison’s Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment to launch the Peers Empowering Peers project, in collaboration with Professor Sandra Underwood of the UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing.

Starting in September, program leaders and peer coaches trained by Vivian and Underwood held a series of sessions based on the Centers for Disease Control’s Prevent T2 curriculum to teach community members how to live healthier lives through everything from balanced meals to stress management.

Vivian had started similar initiatives in Madison, inspired by what she was seeing in her clinical practice at Access Community Health Centers. Many of her patients live in low-income communities where grocery stores aren’t readily accessible, or where they don’t feel safe going for a walk. She saw that many of her diabetes patients also had to work multiple jobs because they have limited incomes, which comes with a great deal of stress, especially when there are children involved.

“All of these things affect their health and their ability to manage blood glucose levels,” says Vivian. “By the time I saw them in the clinic, they were already on a downward trajectory. As a pharmacist and diabetes educator, I thought there had to be a better way.”

So she partnered with various community organizations to offer diabetes education classes throughout Madison at different community centers, including Meadowood Neighborhood Center. Through the Baldwin grant, she has able to replicate these initiatives to Milwaukee.\

“We don’t realize we’re eating ourselves into poor health,” says Jaqueline Smith, who volunteered to be a peer coach in Milwaukee. “The African American community is very prone to diabetes.”

Beatriz Jimenez Cadilla, a fourth-year PharmD student at the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy, jumped at the chance to get involved with the project through the PharmD program’s independent study research elective. She attended the peer coach trainings and developed a survey to gauge the role of food insecurity on the self-care habits of individuals with diabetes in the Peers Empowering Peers project, and also helped to plan the educational sessions based on community feedback.

“After witnessing the trainings and seeing how motivated the community is, I feel like this is something that will have a significant impact on the community members and will continue to do so for years to come,” Jimenez Cadilla says.

Over the course of the 16-week program, Smith and other peer coaches — including a dietitian, wellness trainer, two retired nurses, and a chef — support Vivian, Underwood and other involved health care professionals as they present strategies for finding the time for exercise, tracking activity, managing stress, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and detecting, managing and even preventing diabetes.

Marvin Brown, the peer coach chef, will also lead sessions about how to grocery shop and cook with health in mind. But he won’t just be providing basic nutritional recipes — Brown will be taking cues from the community about how to adapt family and cultural recipes to be more conducive to health. For example, instead of red beans and rice, he’d cook red beans and quinoa or cauliflower.

“The goal is to adapt what is presented so that it is consistent with the values and needs of the culture of the population,” says Underwood. “We want to hear from our participants and know what their choices are and what they would like to improve, because that’s really how we are going to make an impact.”

Read more about the program here. Hear about Dr. Vivian’s work in improving health in underserved communities.