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November 16, 2010
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Telemedicine can be cost-effective way to treat people with diabetes experiencing food insecurity, says study

SYRACUSE, N.Y. —Telemedicine can provide cost-effective ways to treat people with diabetes who are experiencing food insecurity, according to an Upstate Medical University researcher who served as the lead author of an article published in the November/December 2010 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The findings came from the IDEATel project, a multi-site study that Upstate participated in that found evidence that low-income older individuals with diabetes and food insecurity have the ability to follow an appropriate meal plan after receiving nutrition education via telemedicine.

According to the American Dietetic Association, food security is defined as access by all people, at all times to sufficient food for an active and healthy life, including the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods. However, 10 percent of adults with diabetes experienced food insecurity in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. For individuals with diabetes, where nutrition and menu planning play a key role in treatment, food insecurity can have serious consequences.

“Unfortunately, older patients with diabetes commonly do not directly indicate to their primary care provider that money, lack of nutrition knowledge, transportation, physical disability, or other barriers are preventing them from complying with dietary recommendations,” says lead author Dr. Daria Homenko, who conducted this work at Upstate.

“In the IDEATel project [telemedicine], nutrition education was effectively delivered to rural older adults with diabetes using telemedicine,” said co-author, Ruth Weinstock, M.D., Ph.D.,professor of medicine and director of the Joslin Diabetes Center at Upstate. “This study demonstrated that among participants classified as both food secure and mildly insecure, individuals were usually able to follow the dietitian’s advice. This finding suggests that telemedical nutrition support services have the potential to be an important adjunct for rural primary care providers whose patients have poor access to the services of dietitians.”

Researchers participating in the study believe that food insecurity may become a greater problem for older patients living on fixed incomes as the cost of food rises or economically depressed rural localities lose food-distribution outlets.

“Nutrition education with sensitivity to food insecurity issues as well as services providing access to low-cost, healthful food are needed for many older, rural patients with diabetes. Telemedicine can help with the former; public policies are critical for the latter,” said the researchers.

Within the article, the researchers emphasize the importance of providing access to dietitians and diabetes education to underserved older adults with diabetes using telemedicine.

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