$200,000 Grant to Help Local Youths Avoid Diabetes

03/27/2009
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

University, Community Groups Partner to Stem Potential Health Crisis

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ UMass Lowell has received a $200,000 grant from the University of Massachusetts Life Sciences Moment Fund to tackle the rising rates of diabetes risk factors in 9- to 13-year-olds in diverse, lower income communities.

Prof. Garry Handelman of UMass Lowell’s clinical laboratories and nutritional sciences department received the grant, along with Assoc. Prof. A. James Lee of the community heath and sustainability department and Assoc. Prof. Lori Pbert of UMass Medical School. They will partner with the Lowell Community Health Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell to develop nutrition and physical activity programs that will enable children to take charge of their health. The goal is to prevent the occurrence of Type II diabetes, which is now becoming more common in young adults.

Diabetes now affects nearly 24 million people in the United States, an increase of more than 3 million in approximately two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Studies show that the occurrence of Type II diabetes is rising in minority youth because of obesity and inactivity. The disease is more common in some racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and some Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

“If we don’t help these kids now, by the age of 35, more than half of them may develop diabetes,” says Handelman. “It’s a preventable disease that can have devastating consequences such as impaired eyesight and kidney and nerve damage.  We’re especially worried about young kids because the longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk of complications throughout their lives.”

One of the goals of the project is to find a way of sustaining the program once grant funding ends. Lee, a health care economist, will develop economic models to measure the cost of the interventions. This information will be shared with health payers, such as insurance companies, to encourage them to cover prevention programs that may cost less in the long-term than treating the rising number of diabetes patients.

“We hope to make this a permanent program in Lowell as well encourage other communities throughout Massachusetts to replicate the programs,” says Lee. “These interventions will benefit both our kids and our health care system.”

The Lowell Community Health Center will recruit children into the program this summer. The nutrition and physical activity programs will take place at the Boys and Girls Club of Great Lowell throughout the school year, from September until June 2010. 

"Our overall goal is to make the program an enjoyable, life-changing experience for kids,” says Handelman. “We want them to have fun first and foremost because it’s only then they will engage and witness results that will lead to longer, healthier lives.”

Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the country. It can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness and kidney failure, and result in lower-extremity amputations.

The Life Sciences Moment Fund awarded $750,000 to five teams of inter-campus researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Part of the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the $1 million Life Sciences Moment Fund seeks to accelerate the timeline for bringing basic scientific research findings to the bedside by leveraging expertise from each of the five UMass campuses to develop new and promising research partnerships.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 12,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu