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“Viva Mas y Mejor:” Program Helps Latinos Take Control of Diabetes

December 13, 2013

Diabetes is a serious disease of numbers and lifestyle balance. To stay healthy, people with diabetes closely monitor their blood sugar (called glucose), blood pressure and cholesterol levels, take prescribed medication and are diligent about good nutrition and physical activity.

Britt Rotberg (right) teaches patients enrolled in the ELDEP program how to manage their diabetes.

If that sounds complicated, imagine coping daily with diabetes along with language barriers, limited access to health care and other financial, social and cultural constraints. These complications add to an already increased risk of diabetes for Latinos.

To reach more Georgians at risk for diabetes and related complications of the eye, heart and kidney, the Emory Healthcare System sponsors the Emory Latino Diabetes Education Program (ELDEP), the first nationally accredited all-Spanish diabetes education program. Participants know it as “Viva Mas y Mejor con su Diabetes Bajo Control” (Live Longer and Better with your Diabetes under Control).

Developed in 2006, the program was designed to help Latinos with diabetes in Georgia to understand their disease and take control of it. For this population, the need for diabetes education and resources is great. The risk of diabetes for Latinos is 66 percent higher than for non-Latino whites. In 2008-2010, more than 34,000 Latinos in Georgia – about 9 percent of the state’s Hispanic residents – had diabetes, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).

Britt Rotberg, ELDEP senior coordinator and educator, said the program aims to educate patients on the proper self-management of their disease, making them feel confident enough to act as partners with their health care providers in managing their disease. 

“Diabetes care is an equal partnership between the patients, health care providers and diabetes educators,” she said.

Diabetes experts note that active, knowledgeable self-management of the diabetes condition is one of the most important and reliable ways for patients to stay healthy and reduce diabetes-related complications. In a scientific review, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) found a four-fold increase in diabetic complications for patients who had never received formal training on proper self-care practices.

ELDEP gives its patients the formal training they need, using the seven self-care behaviors outlined by the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE): healthy eating, being active, glucose monitoring, taking medication, problem solving, healthy coping and reducing risks. Patients attend an initial 3-hour session and monthly follow-up sessions conducted by Spanish-speaking professionals, who teach diabetes basics, discuss strategies for coping with the disease and help patients find support from educators and fellow patients. 

To date, ELDEP has taught self-management skills to more than 1,400 patients, many of whom have attended the classes for more than six years.  And ELDEP seems to be making a difference. A 2012 study of patients in the program found a decrease in blood glucose levels and blood pressure, as well as increases in physical activity, use of blood glucose logs and yearly eye, foot and dental exams. The program also received accreditation from AADE for a new project, the Emory Latino Diabetes Education for Gestational Diabetes (ELDEG) program.

ELDEP participant Lilia Rodriguez thanks the program for saving her life. In 2007, she came to the emergency room suffering from extreme thirst, undernourishment and high blood glucose levels – dangerous complications of her type 1 diabetes. Although she knew she had the disease, no one had ever explained to her that her disease meant she needed insulin to survive.

After enrolling in the ELDEP program, Rodriguez learned how to take care of herself and the importance of the ABCs of diabetes: blood sugar control (with the A1c blood glucose test), blood pressure control and cholesterol control.  

“Without the ELDEP program, I would not know what information to ask the doctor to help monitor my diabetes,” she said. “Now when I go to the doctor, I ask him about my ABCs.”

Rodriguez now helps new patients in the program as a peer educator, calling them every month to check on their progress and recruiting new patients who need help. 

Another ELDEP participant, Manuel Ortiz Ramirez, 50, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes many years ago. He said he was never able to control the disease properly.

“But in ELDEP, we talk about different subjects, like how to eat healthy, eat foods that do not increase our blood sugar and which exercises we should practice on a daily basis. I’m personally grateful day by day and I learned so many new things that help me to control this disease, with which I now live with in harmony.”

To learn more about the Emory Latino Diabetes Education Program, please visit the program’s website.

For more information and resources on diabetes control and preventing complications, visit diabetes section on the DPH website.