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Partners of Newly Diagnosed Diabetes Patients More Likely to Adopt Healthy Behaviors

Large observational study by Kaiser Permanente suggests that a type 2 diabetes diagnosis may be a “teachable moment” for the entire household

Partners of people with newly diagnosed diabetes are more likely to improve their health behaviors than partners of people without the disease, according to a large new Kaiser Permanente study published today in Annals of Family Medicine.

Study lead author Julie Schmittdiel, PhD

“When a person is diagnosed with diabetes it could be a ‘teachable moment’ to encourage healthy lifestyles and improve health habits for the whole family, as well as an opportunity to reduce their risk of developing diabetes,” said study lead author Julie Schmittdiel, PhD, research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 30.3 million Americans have diabetes, a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar levels. The treatment of type 2 diabetes typically begins with lifestyle modifications, as well as medication to lower blood sugar levels as needed.

The study, “Influence of a New Diabetes Diagnosis on the Health Behaviors of the Patient’s Partner,” reviewed the electronic health records of more than 180,000 co-residing couples who were members of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California from 2007 to 2011.

The researchers matched each person newly diagnosed with diabetes and their co-residing partner with five persons without diabetes and their co-residing partners, and assessed changes in eight health behaviors for a year pre­- and post-diagnosis.

Partners of people with type 2 diabetes were about 50 percent more likely to take a weight management class, and they were 25 percent more likely to take smoking cessation medication, compared to similar partners of people without type 2 diabetes. The likelihood that partners of people with diabetes would participate in other health behaviors — glucose screening, clinically meaningful weight loss, lipid screening, influenza vaccination and blood pressure screening — was between 2 and 7 percent higher, when compared to partners of people without diabetes.

“This is one of the first studies to look at how other people in a household might be changing their behaviors in response to a partner’s diabetes diagnosis,” Schmittdiel said. “We believe our findings highlight the need for a new focus on health risk interventions not just for individuals, but for their families and social networks.”

Diabetes is an active area of study for Kaiser Permanente research. Scientists across the organization have used Kaiser Permanente’s rich, comprehensive, longitudinal data to advance understanding of risk, improving patient outcomes, and translating research findings into policy and practice. Kaiser Permanente has published more than 840 articles related to diabetes over the past decade and, together, the studies have been cited by other researchers nearly 40,000 times.

This study was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

In addition to Schmittdiel, co-authors of the study were Sara R. Adams, MPH, Kaiser Permanente Division of Research; Solveig A. Cunningham, PhD, Jannie Nielsen, PhD, and Mohammed K. Ali, MBChB, Emory University.

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