The study found that peer support helped even if the person providing help did not have diabetes but simply had knowledge on the disease.
A higher share of racial minorities are affected by diabetes, and the most recent CDC statistics show that 12.8% of Hispanics have the disease, compared with 9.3% of the US population overall.
Hispanics are more likely to experience complications, and this group has a higher death rate from the disease, according to the HHS Office of Minority Health.
Having support from peers can help, according to a study from the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine, which looked at how well interventions work in the Hispanic population when the person with diabetes gets support from a person who understands the disease—even if that individual doesn’t actually have diabetes.
Sonal Patil, MD, an assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at the MU School of Medicine, and her colleagues evaluated results from 17 randomized controlled trials on peer support in diabetes care that spanned more than 50 years between 1960 and 2015. The researchers looked at the blood sugar levels of patients who received peer support and those who had similar care without peer support. Results were published in the Annals of Family Medicine.
Patil’s team found that those who had the peer support interventions experienced modest improvement in their blood sugar levels. The greatest improvement occurred in interventions that involved mostly minority participants, suggesting that the intervention was tailored to the population.
“Previous research has found that when culturally appropriate health education is provided to people with diabetes who belong to ethnic minority groups, their glycemic control and knowledge of diabetes improves,” Patil said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that peer health coaches might provide more culturally appropriate health education in ethnic minority populations, particularly Latino ones.”
Peer support interventions don’t just help those with diabetes—those around them benefit as well, Patil said. Similar random controlled trials are needed with other at-risk groups, such as African Americans, she said.
The role of peers in a diabetic patient’s lifestyle management is well documented. Family and friends play major roles in food and other lifestyle choices. A study presented in Boston at the 2015 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions involving African American families in North Carolina showed that educating a person in the household with major control of meals, alongside a person with diabetes, had a major positive impact on the person’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and glycated hemoglobin.
Patil SJ, Ruppar T, Koopman RJ, et al. Peer support interventions for adults with diabetes: a meta-analysis of hemoglobin A1C outcomes. Ann Fam Med. 2016;14(6):540-551. doi: 10.1370/afm.1982.