HOP Faculty Awarded Pilot Grant to Develop Diabetes Mentoring Program for Youth

While low socioeconomic status is known to negatively affect children with Type 1 Diabetes, little is known about the underlying causes of such disparities. With the help of a new grant from a national diabetes research network, a team of UF researchers hopes to reduce these problems by implementing a novel program in which college students with diabetes mentor low-income children with diabetes.

Ashby Walker, Ph.D., and Desmond Schatz, M.D., recently received a one-year $45,000 pilot study grant from the T1D Exchange Clinic Network, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering collaboration among patients, physicians, and researchers to speed up the research process for Type 1 Diabetes. The project, “Promoting Health Equity for Youth with Type 1 Diabetes through Outreach, Networks, and Education: All for ONE!” will give UF students with Type 1 Diabetes the opportunity to mentor low-income children who also have Type 1 Diabetes.

“Achieving optimal health while living with Type 1 Diabetes requires continual efforts to manage this disease,” said Walker, assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes & Policy. “College students with Type 1 Diabetes have knowledge and expertise that can be leveraged to better equip economically vulnerable children and adolescents to face these same challenges.  The college students will provide diabetes education and also serve as role models for academic success.”

Walker is a co-principal investigator of the study, along with Schatz, professor and associate chair of the Department of Pediatrics, medical director of the UF Diabetes Institute and president of the American Diabetes Association. Michael Haller, M.D., associate professor and chief of endocrinology in the Department of Pediatrics, is also part of the research team.

“Our hope is that college students, too, benefit from their participation as mentors as they will grow their social networks and become more mindful of their own self-care,” Walker said. Moreover, the mentors will receive research credits through this program and be exposed to many types of career trajectories in diabetes research and clinical care.”

In a previous research project published in the April 2015 issue of Clinical Diabetes, Walker and her team discovered tremendous disparities in the types of social support systems that youth with Type 1 Diabetes have based on socioeconomic status. Children with Type 1 Diabetes from households with low socioeconomic status had very few social supports related to diabetes when compared to their more affluent peers: they knew few people who also had Type 1 Diabetes; they engaged in very few, if any, support groups for diabetes; and they participated in very few extracurricular activities.

Building on these findings, Walker and Schatz received funding to examine health care utilization patterns for children with Type 1 Diabetes (provided by the Pediatric Workgroups, a collaboration among the University of Florida’s Department of Pediatrics, Department of Health Outcomes & Policy, Institute for Child Health Policy, and Family Data Center). Research from the working group demonstrated that publicly insured children with Type 1 Diabetes in Texas and Florida don’t receive routine endocrinology care as recommended by the American Diabetes Association.

The mentoring pilot is designed to offset disparities in social support systems and provide more intentional outreach to children who may not see an endocrinologist on a regular basis for routine visits.