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Salt Lake City Refugees Learn How to Manage Their Diabetes

Last Published: 06/18/2013
Hailey Nielson

Diabetes is the number one nutrition related illness newly arrived refugees are diagnosed with at the 30 day health screening in Salt Lake City making up 51% of all diagnosable diseases. Current diabetes management programs in the United States designed for populations with low literacy levels do not consider the unique needs of refugees; therefore shortcomings in programming still exist such as trying to teach difficult carbohydrate counting methods and leaving out cultural aspects of food that are important to refugees. Moreover, introductions to what diabetes is and how it works is usually not interactive and not done at the appropriate literacy level.

Recognizing the aforementioned difficulties, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City's Diabetes Management Pilot Program created a unique system of carbohydrate counting that eliminates the math aspect. Furthermore, IRC in Salt Lake City has piloted a diabetes management program that tries to address current gaps in diabetes education by including the following topics: What is Diabetes?; Blood Glucose; Eating with Diabetes; Carbohydrate Counting I & II; Exercise; Medication; and Taking Care of Your Body. This pilot project funded by the Utah Department of Health has received funding for another year of implementation.

Burma and Bhutan on mapMany newly arriving refugees to the U.S. are from Bhutan and Burma.

The primary goal of the program was to increase self-efficacy in behaviors required for diabetes management. Outcomes of the pilot program show significant positive behavior changes in diabetes management among the Burmese and Bhutanese. Before the intervention only one person (14.3%) followed a healthy eating plan six days per week while the remaining 85.7% never followed one. In comparison, after the intervention 85.7% of participants followed their healthy eating plan seven days per week while 14.3% (1 person) did not respond. These results coupled with others indicate that an overwhelming amount of refugee participants diagnosed with diabetes lacked basic diabetes self-care knowledge. IRC in Salt Lake City's Diabetes Management Program taught participants how to both eat healthy with diabetes and encouraged them to follow through with healthy eating.

Feelings of sadness were the primary emotion participants felt once diagnosed with diabetes as they were not familiar with what diabetes was. While participants come from countries where traditional medicine is common; surprisingly, all stated that they only trust western treatment. The Bhutanese participants felt this way because they are here in the United States they must follow the rules here; whereas the Burmese simply felt more safe receiving western treatment. Overwhelmingly, all participants who completed the program stated they are happy now that they attended, as they can control their diabetes and now have more energy.

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