UT Professor fights diabetes with culturally relevant plan

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A UT professor and her innovative strategies for fighting diabetes in South Texas have led to success where others have failed.

Nursing professor Sharon Brown has worked with the residents of Starr County, Texas, an impoverished Texas-Mexico border community, since 1988 to fight regional diabetes. By using culturally-sensitive techniques including pursuing grants to bring affordable health care to the community, translating health-care information into Spanish and creating community-based support groups, Brown has been able to address the specific issues of Starr County and reduce the diabetes epidemic in the area.

According to 2010 US Census statistics, Starr County is more than 95 percent Hispanic and ranks as one of the poorest counties in the United States.

Bobbie Sterling, assistant professor of clinical nursing, said Brown sets herself apart from other researchers because of how she deals with her research participants.

“My review of her research is that she has done a marvelous job of getting everybody in the community involved,” Sterling said. “Most researchers go in and say ‘You do this because I think its best,’ but Dr. Brown did a great job of involving the community leaders and the existing community agencies.”

Brown said the key aspect of her research is the support it gives to the culturally-sensitive approach.

“I think the most important thing is we were able to show that if you develop a program to meet the needs of a specific culture it is effective,” she said.

Kathryn Wiley, public affairs representative for the School of Nursing, said Brown’s work comes at a time when it is of the utmost importance.

“Diabetes is at practically epidemic stages right now,” she said.

According to a 2010 study by the Texas Department of State Health Services, 9.7 percent of all adults in Texas suffer from diabetes. The national average is 9.2 percent. The three groups tested were whites, blacks and Hispanics, with Hispanics found to have the highest risk for diabetes at 11 percent nationally.

Brown said she has seen her techniques spread and succeed in other low-income hispanic communities.

“I actually get requests for materials, particularly the educational video tapes we distributed, from all over the country,” she said. “It’s usually people in border states that want to see and use them, and they have even been adapted for other Hispanic sub-groups, like Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans.”

Sterling said she is excited that Brown’s work is being recognized because of the tremendous impact that it could have on the rest of the country, and even the world.

“She has a marvelous global picture, not global in terms of geography, but global in terms of what a community needs,” Sterling said.