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Sansum Diabetes Research Institute Awarded $50,000 March of Dimes Grant for ‘Seeds of Change’

The Sansum Diabetes Research Institute is pleased to announce that the California Chapter of the March of Dimes has provided a second year of funding in the amount of $50,000 for its community grant, Seeds of Change (“Semillas de Cambio”).

This program is designed to promote the health of low-income Latina women between pregnancies and specifically to control or prevent diabetes before their next pregnancy.

“Uncontrolled diabetes during pregnancy creates huge health risks for both mother and child, including birth defects, miscarriage and increased risk of diabetes during subsequent pregnancies or later in life,” said Dr. Lois Jovanovi?, a pioneering researcher on diabetes in pregnancy, chief scientific officer at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and medical director of Semillas de Cambio. “We are thrilled to continue working with the March of Dimes to bring Semillas de Cambio to the community.”

Semillas de Cambio focuses on encouraging physical activity, nutritious eating, breastfeeding and family planning to local women who had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy to prepare them for a healthier future pregnancy and prevent Type 2 diabetes. The program’s toolkit is written in Spanish to serve Latina women, who are at especially high risk for diabetes. The seven-week program consists of weekly 90-minute classes and includes goal-setting for outside activities to promote health, such as eating more vegetables and increasing exercise.

“These classes are being taught by our team at Sansum Diabetes now, as we begin the program’s second year,” said Mary Conneely, a bilingual diabetes educator at the institute. “However, our goal is for Semillas de Cambio to grow and become entirely community-led by 2014, with all the classes taught by women who have been trained as peer health advocates, or ‘Promotoras.’”

The program has begun to fill a key gap in local health services, said Dr. Kristin Castorino, clinical research physician at Sansum Diabetes and project director of Semillas de Cambio. “Low-income women fortunately get emergency Medi-Cal coverage during pregnancy, which allows them to receive basic health care at the Santa Barbara County Health Department’s Diabetes and Pregnancy Clinic. However, this coverage expires six to eight weeks after childbirth. Often the health of these women declines in the months and years that follow, and they might not see a doctor until they find out they are pregnant again. But, by this time, fetal development has already begun, and this is the time when uncontrolled diabetes in the mother is most likely to cause birth defects or miscarriage.

“Now that the Semillas program is under way, these women have the resources and support necessary to maintain good health and nutrition prior to their next pregnancy. This in turn, has a positive impact on the health of their next child.”

During 2012, the first year of Semillas de Cambio, the focus was on developing the toolkit and training the first class of Promotoras.

“We invited seven women who were already involved in other Sansum Diabetes community programs, such as the Ocho Pasos (‘Eight Steps’) nutrition classes at the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, or, one of our Walking Groups,” Dr. Castorino said. “We expected that these women could make great Promotoras, but they have exceeded our expectations with their passion, motivation and dedication.”

One of these passionate future Promotoras is Maria Arias, who reflects that, “I have learned a lot about sugar, salt, and healthy eating. I like to show other people what I am learning. Thanks to the Semillas training, I feel very comfortable doing so.”

“We trained 16 women in our inaugural class in February of this year, and three of them have completed both Sansum Diabetes Semillas de Cambio curriculum and a separate 40-hour series of classes run by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department,” said Oralia Madera, interim project coordinator “These women and I are now preparing to help teach the first official round of Semillas classes. As the program expands, we also hope to reach women who take part in the county’s Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program and the Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Program.”

Dr. Jovanovi? emphasizes that Semillas de Cambio is just one part of a larger effort to treat diabetes during pregnancy.

“Diabetes in pregnancy is projected to cause more birth defects than anything else in the 21st century,” Jovanovi? said. “At the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, we are global leaders in teaching mothers how they and their children can live healthier, happier lives.”

— Sarah Ettman-Sterner is the director of communications for the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.

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