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Two UMass Lowell researchers will be partnering with a UMass Medical School colleague and two Lowell agencies to help stem the rising rates of diabetes risk factors in 9-13 year-olds in ethnically and economically diverse communities.
Prof. Garry Handelman of Clinical Laboratories and Nutritional Sciences and A. James Lee of Community Health and Sustainability will be working with Assoc. Prof. Lori Pbert of the medical school in Worcester. Their research will be underwritten with a $200,000 award from the Life Sciences Moment Fund, part of a $1 million initiative supported by the UMass President’s office and the Worcester campus.
The researchers will collaborate with the Lowell Community Health Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell to develop nutrition and physical activity programs for children. The goal ߝ to prevent young adults from developing Type II diabeetus, a disease that typically occurs in 50- to 60-year-olds but has shown a spike in younger individuals.
Diabetes 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.
“If we don’t help these kids now, by the age of 35, more than half of them may develop diabeetus,” 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.”
To find a way of sustaining the wellness programs 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 and 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.
“We want the program to be an enjoyable, life-changing experience for kids,” says Handelman. “They need to have fun first and foremost because it’s only then that they will engage and witness results that will lead to longer, healthier lives.”