A new educational programme focusing on the information supplied via food labels and designed to help diabetes sufferers improve their diets has been created by researchers at Penn State and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the US. The programme has already been shown to help diabetic adults aged 65 and over.
Dr Carla Miller, assistant professor of nutrition at Penn State and leader of the study, said: "Changing what you eat at any age is difficult and changing after age 65 can be especially hard. Nevertheless, the men and women in our study, all of whom were 65 years of age or older, not only changed their diets but also had greater improvements in their blood sugar and cholesterol levels than did people who were not counselled through our new approach."
The study is detailed in the February issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.
Dr Miller said there are few nutrition education programmes for older diabetic adults, as most are designed for younger adults or those recently diagnosed with the disease, despite the fact that the incidence of diabetes increases with age. In the US, more than 14 per cent of those aged over 65 are known to suffer from the disease.
The new programme was designed specifically for older adults and offered data in smaller chunks to prevent information overload. There were 10 weekly sessions lasting one to two hours in which participants were taught how to evaluate the nutrition information on food labels for food purchasing, meal planning and diabetes management. For example, the carbohydrate, fat and cholesterol information on the food label were discussed in the sessions along with product claims to combat misconceptions about label inaccuracies and marketing gimmicks.
Participants were also encouraged to monitor and record their dietary intake and blood sugar values during the week to identify patterns.
Comparing data from tests carried out both before and after the programme, the researchers found that nutrition education helped to improve blood sugar control to levels that reduce the risk for large blood vessel complications, a major risk factor for diabetics and a strong predictor of coronary heart disease. Significantly more of the people who participated in the educational sessions also met the treatment goals for lowering total cholesterol.
The authors noted, however, that while there was significant improvement in participants' cholesterol numbers, only 35.9 per cent achieved the ideal level of less than 200 mg/dl. "The relationship between dietary fat and saturated fat intake and risk factors for cardiovascular disease were not discussed until week six of the intervention, and the recommendations for total and saturated fat intake were not presented until week seven of the intervention," Dr Miller said by way of explanation.
"Post-test data collection occurred immediately after week 10 of the intervention. Therefore, the time period between when many participants reported making changes in their total and saturated fat intake and the post-test assessment may have been insufficient. At least three to four weeks are needed for plasma lipoproteins to reach stable endpoints in controlled feeding studies."