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HEAL Diabetes Program Examines if Healthy Eating, Weight Loss Can Spur Diabetes Remission

Recruitment for the HEAL Diabetes program is currently underway. Participants will be asked to change their eating habits and make regular visits to the UTHSC Health Hub for program activities and check-ins.

A team of researchers at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center recently launched HEAL Diabetes (Healthy Eating and Active Living to Address Diabetes), a program for people in Memphis with early diabetes to determine if intensive weight loss through healthy eating can reduce their blood sugar levels and push their diabetes into remission.

The HEAL Diabetes program encourages participants to eat a mostly plant-based diet comprising vegetables and fruits, lean meats like chicken and fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds to help them lose enough weight to discontinue medications and put their diabetes into remission. Recent studies have shown when people with early diabetes lose 30 pounds, about half experience long-term remission of the disease. However, many people with diabetes often lack access to healthy food and the multicomponent weight-loss programs that are most effective. The goals of this program include an average weight loss of 22 pounds, diabetes remission in 40% of participants, and measurable increase in knowledge and self-efficacy over baseline measurements.

Working with University of Memphis researchers, the HEAL Diabetes team is recruiting 72 individuals from the Memphis area who are willing to change their eating habits and make regular visits to the UTHSC Health Hub to participate in program activities including cooking classes and check-ins. The program is led by the Tennessee Population Health Consortium at UT Health Science Center and supported by a $550,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare’s Communities of Health initiative, as well as by CashSaver Memphis, a regional grocer.

Dr. Jim Bailey

According to America’s Heath Rankings, Tennessee has among the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in the United States, due primarily to unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco use.

“Healthy eating and regular physical activity are the most important things people can do to prevent and treat diabetes. The HEAL Diabetes program is designed to show participants how to make healthy food delicious and change their cooking and eating habits for life,” said Jim Bailey, MD, executive director of the Tennessee Population Health Consortium and principal investigator of HEAL Diabetes. Dr. Bailey also serves as a director of the Center for Health System Improvement in the College of Medicine and holds the Robert S. Pearce Endowed Chair in Internal Medicine at UT Health Science Center.

“UnitedHealthcare looks forward to this partnership and working alongside UT Health Science Center and the Tennessee Population Health Consortium with a shared vision of a healthier and more equitable Memphis,” said Lauren Montwill, vice president of Health Equity and Community Impact at UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of UnitedHealthcare. “The community-based approach of HEAL Diabetes and the UTHSC Health Hub ensures the services provided are the ones most needed in the community.”

Alexandria Boykins, MA, MPH, serves as the HEAL Diabetes project director; Susie L. Suttle, MPH, MSW, LMSW, and Colbie Andrews serve as the lead health coaches; and Satya Surbhi, PhD, is the lead evaluator. Additionally, Tracy Bruen, DCN, RDN, LDN, director of the clinical nutrition graduate program at University of Memphis, and Melissa Petersen, BA, kitchen operations manager for the Tiger Food Lab at University of Memphis, are leading the nutrition and cooking classes.

The Tennessee Population Health Consortium is committed to working to improve the health of all Tennesseans through HEAL Diabetes, as well as through its Tennessee Heart Health Network and Neighborhood Health Hub initiatives. This work is part of UT Health Science Center’s effort to bring better health to all Tennesseans and aligns with the university’s vision: Healthy Tennesseans. Thriving Communities.

More information is available at www.uthsc.edu/research/populationhealth.