When Arshiya Baig, MD, MPH, and her colleagues from the University of Chicago Department of Medicine hosted a town hall meeting last month to present the results of the Picture Good Health research study, the crowd that attended was a validation of the project’s goals.
The study tested out a group-based diabetes education program at two Catholic churches in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. Dozens of people who participated in the study, their family, friends and community leaders came to St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish – one of the churches used for the study – to hear the results and talk about how they wanted to continue the program. Baig said this enthusiasm marked a milestone in the work she and her colleagues have been doing over the past year, and stressed how important it was to share the results with the community and build momentum to continue the project.
“We’ve been committed to this community,” she said. “Many of our community leaders who were at the town hall told me that they were impressed with the turnout and how vocal people were talking about what they wanted to do, their passion for the project, and wanting more resources in the community.”Baig, an assistant professor of medicine, studies disparities in diabetes care, specifically in the Chicago Latino community. In the United States, Latinos are about twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. Instead of trying to develop a broad educational program driven by medical professionals, she looked to the support networks already in place to create peer-based groups to help Latinos cope with the daily challenges of diabetes.
One of the most important support networks in this community is the church, so Baig and her team developed a series of eight-week classes held at church on various diabetes topics, led by a member of the community. They combined the courses with assistance from Taller de Jose, a social service agency based in Little Village that helped participants learn about resources in the community, from finding physicians to legal, immigration, housing and employment services.
A key component of the course was a concept called the “photovoice,” where participants shared personal photos relevant to living with diabetes, such as shelves of healthy food options (or lack thereof) at their local grocery store, or advertisements for fast food they see on the way to the bus stop. The photos would trigger a discussion about how they can adjust their habits to stay healthy and maintain good control of their diabetes.
One hundred people participated in the program, and the researchers have been able to stay in contact with about 80 percent of them for six months after they completed the course. In the short time they’ve been able to follow them, Baig said they’ve already seen changes in participants’ diet and physical activity.
Baig said that sharing the results of the study with the participants is a crucial part of community-based participatory research, especially when it’s focused on a specific minority group like the Latino community in Little Village.
“They are a population that many people want to study. They may participate in a study but then they never know what happens with those results or it never comes back to them,” she said. “My purpose in doing this is to have sustainable programs in the community. They need to know what these programs are doing and build momentum to actually use the results do something to improve health.”
Baig also understands the unique health needs of an immigrant community like Little Village on a personal level, because her family immigrated to the Chicago area from India in the 1970s.
“I understand the immigrant experience from what my family members have gone through in accessing health care in the U.S.,” she said. “I also understand the barriers that people have in delivering health care within the culture and beliefs of a community. Working within the cultural and faith context really drew me to the Little Village community.”
She and her colleagues plan to publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal this spring, and have submitted a grant to continue and expand the program. But even if that doesn’t work out, she believes there’s enough energy to continue.
“There’s just this excitement that this is a valuable program and we want to continue,” she said. “We want to brainstorm ways to do it even if we don’t get the grant.”