Diabetes prevention through healthy art and tips

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Portugal)

FALL RIVER — Four medical professionals who believe art can be powerful in educating people about health are hoping to draw the attention of local Portuguese-speaking populations to diabetes prevention using illustrated tips.
 Hannah McLane, who is training to be a neurologist, developed the “Dica de Diabetes” project series, which offers simple prevention tips accompanied by related drawings or illustrations.
 “People can attempt to make small changes each week, and little by little improve their management of diabetes over time,” said McLane. “It is just a small bit of advice, but over the year will add up to helping someone make significant changes in their life.”
 McLane said she came up with the idea for the project while working with Dr. Manuela Mendes in Fall River during a rotation in medical school.
 “Working with her Portuguese-speaking patients allowed me to see how curious they were about how to manage diabetes, and also how few written education resources there are in Portuguese,” she said. “They weren’t quite sure what they needed to do on a day-to-day basis to address their diabetes.”
 She then sought the help and support of Dr. Mendes, Diabetes Educator Rose Marie Couto and Illustrator and Epidemiologist Sarah Dobbins, and the four orchestrated the concept for the project.
 McLane and Couto usually come up with the wording for each weekly tip. Dr. Mendes offers her professional advice and cultural insight and Dobbins illustrates it. The final product is then disseminated to the community and printed in O Jornal.
 “I hope these tips can be read by everyone, even non-diabetes, to encourage healthy living. We know it is difficult to change habits, but it is so important to try,¨ said McLane.
 She also noted how prevention is highly important in this region, where the prevalence of diabetes hovers 11 percent — about three percent higher than the national average. Citing the “Healthy Massachusetts Disease Management and Wellness: Focus on Diabetes” report prepared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2009, she said diabetes causes every week in the state of Massachusetts 38 lower leg amputations, 22 deaths, 13 new cases of end-stage renal disease and five new case of blindness.
 “Changing just a few habits can go a very long way in diabetes, and a little known fact is that if you work on managing blood sugars and pay attention to diet, diabetes usually causes no complications,” said McLane.
 Complications of unmanaged diabetes can be severe, such as infections, amputations, blindness and indigestion.
 “It is much more difficult to turn around diabetes if you leave it unmanaged for many years– but can make a huge impact if you start early,” she said.
 Couto was inspired to participate in the project because it helps to effectively communicate with a population that has barriers around getting the information required to prevent complications and remain healthy.
 “The Portuguese are my people. I know and believe they have the tools to live healthier. They just need to lean to use those tools. This venue is a great way to start that process,” she said.
 In turn, Dobbins said she took the project because she believes pictures can tell the story well about diabetes being manageable.

 “Visual media is everywhere, and it can help educate people and improve health,¨ she said. “I love drawing, and I know that art is powerful — I want to use it to empower people.”
 The tips will be available to all Portuguese-speakers in the area, whether they have medical insurance or not. Prima Care of Fall River has agreed to sponsor their placement in O Jornal.
 One of the main goals of the project is to lead to long-term habit-forming, Mclane said.
 “I would love to see people cutting out each week’s tip and saving them,” she said. “It is less overwhelming for people to get just a little bit of advice each week rather than getting a huge pile of papers from their doctor at the time of diagnosis.”
 Currently, the team has enough material for 52 tips, or a year’s worth.
 “I hope it continues even longer,” said McLane.
 For more information about this project and to access the tips, please visit diabetesweekly.wordpress.com

Email Lurdes C. da Silva at ldasilva@ojornal.com