The often ignored or misunderstood labels that, as required by law, provide nutritional information on all food packaging may hold a key to reducing the negative consequences of diabetes in underserved populations, a new Yale School of Public Health study has found.
In a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. Grace Kollannoor-Samuel, a PhD student at the School of Public Health, found that Latinos with diabetes who received guidance from community health workers on how to shop for groceries according to the nutritional information on food labels were more likely to continue that practice over time. The study found that about 15 percent of the total protective effect of this intervention against high blood glucose levels could be attributed to improved dietary quality as a result of food label use. Type-2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States, and there are high rates of the disease among Latinos, a population with limited access to health care.
“This randomized controlled study is the first ever published showing the major role that food label education plays at helping low-income individuals in the United States manage their type 2 diabetes,” said Professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, a co-author of the study.
Dr. Kollannoor-Samuel said that community health workers are key to the success of this tactic for improving diabetes self-management in underserved populations. “[They] can translate generic health-related recommendations given in doctor’s offices into simpler, easy to follow, pragmatic yet culturally sensitive health-messages,” she said. “In our trial, community health workers were able to provide effective culturally-sensitive hands-on food label education in home and grocery store settings. This might be very relevant in a community such as our study population who suffer from significant health disparities. “
Kollannoor-Samuel conducted this study as part of her Ph.D. dissertation at the School of Public Health, where she expects to receive her degree this spring. She collaborated on this study, which was one of four included in her dissertation, with Dr. Pérez-Escamilla, her mentor, and Dr. Fatma Shebl, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health. “Dr. Pérez-Escamilla is the best mentor a PhD student can ask for,” she said. “And Dr. Shebl’s statistical intelligence and guidance were crucial in the completion of my dissertation.”
After graduation, Kollannoor-Samuel plans to expand her research on food labels to include other populations with or without chronic diseases. She also would like to explore the protective effects of food label use on diabetes incidence or glucose control, and how it’s modified by factors such as fast food or soda consumption.
See the full paper at ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303091.