Northwest Arkansas fight against Marshall Islander diabetes nets $2 million grant

A $2 million grant will help sustain the yearslong push to lower diabetes in Northwest Arkansas' growing Marshallese community, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences announced Thursday.

The three-year award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute in Washington goes to the university's Office of Community Health and Research and its partner Center for Pacific Islander Health. The groups collaborate with the area's 12,000 or so islanders to adapt health care to their cultures and concerns.

The grant specifically is for studying culturally appropriate ways to prevent type 2 diabetes, which is heavily influenced by diet and other lifestyle factors, according to a news release. The university has found almost half of Northwest Arkansas Marshallese have diabetes and even more are pre-diabetic, a far higher percentage than in the overall population.

"This particular study was conceived by working with members of the community -- largely through churches -- to identify the health questions that the Marshallese in Arkansas most want answered," Pearl McElfish, associate vice chancellor for the university's northwest campus in Fayetteville and co-director of the islander health center, said in a statement.

The study complements ongoing work by the community health office, churches, clinics and other community groups to drive down diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity among the region's Hispanic and Marshallese residents. The Washington institute previously gave a $2 million grant for culturally informed diabetes management and treatment.

The largely immigrant groups have lower incomes than whites and face language barriers and other cultural and practical obstacles to getting quality health care, researchers and community members have said. The Marshallese also contend with the lingering history of dozens of United States nuclear tests in their home islands, which pushed their diets toward salty, processed foods.

The heavily family and church-centered cultures of islanders are crucial to spreading knowledge about how to prevent or deal with chronic illnesses, McElfish and other university researchers, many of whom are islanders themselves, have said. Their research looks into ways of making sure that knowledge makes sense and lasts.

"The community has been asking for help with a diabetes prevention program for a long time, and this project is going to make a big difference in peoples' lives," Wanna Bing, a university project manager who is Marshallese, said in the release.

NW News on 05/19/2017

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