Education is the Key to Better Diabetes Management

Even in this age of information, with books, libraries and the internet available to almost all, lower education is known to be a cause of poor diet and the health problems that go with it.  However, with better education people can be healthier – and that goes double for diabetics.

Two new studies have demonstrated that diabetic patients who get good education to help them manage their condition do better at controlling their blood sugar than those who get no help.  In addition, diabetic patients who get one on one teaching do even better.


Diabetes is a disease in which sufferers cannot metabolize sugar properly because either they produce insufficient insulin or their body’s cells have lost the ability to respond in the correct way to this hormone.  Type 1 diabetics are usually diagnosed when young, and the condition is caused by an autoimmune response, which attacks the tissues in the pancreas that make insulin.  These diabetics have to be given insulin for life, and this form of the disease cannot be prevented by improving one’s lifestyle.  However, type 2 diabetes, which occurs usually later in life, is associated with being overweight and eating unhealthy fatty or sugary foods.

Type 2 diabetes can often be managed without insulin and the symptoms may recede if the diabetic person loses a lot of weight, takes much more exercise, and manages his diet better.

Both types of diabetes are triggers for serious health problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and gangrene, so control of blood sugar is vital.  Doctors try to get the patient’s blood glucose down under 7% as measured with the standard HbA1c test, but doctors estimate nearly half of all US diabetics are failing to control their blood sugar levels.

Educational psychologist Katie Weinger commented, “The problem with diabetes is you can’t just take the medication and say, OK, that’s it.”

She and her team at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston put together a six-week educational program for diabetics, who were taught about better nutrition and lifestyle with blood sugar management skills. They then divided 222 diabetic patients with poor success at managing their condition between three groups, one group getting the devised 10-hour program, and the two control groups getting less educational help.  The team found the group that received the better educational help had reduced their blood sugar test results by 0.8% – sufficient to significantly cut diabetes-associated risks – after a three month trial.  The other two groups only did half as well.

A second recent study carried out by Dr. JoAnn Sperl-Hillen of the Minneapolis Health Partners Research Foundation has demonstrated that one on one education works better than having patients attending group sessions.

Help and advice is available to diabetics through their doctor, at their local health centre or local hospital, and online.  Coaching involves diabetic patients being taught diabetes management skills, including which foods are good and which are bad for them, how to test their blood sugar level and how to calculate insulin medication.  Even schemes using mobile phones have been trialed, with the patient having regular phone calls with a trained diabetic nurse.  These have been shown to work no better than giving the patient a brochure with the information.

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