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Peer support programs help lower blood sugar in people with diabetes

Qi L, Liu Q, Qi X, Wu N et al Effectiveness of peer support for improving glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials BMC Public Health. 2015;15:471.

Review question

Do peer support programs decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes?


Diabetes is a common health condition that is managed by eating well, exercising, monitoring blood sugar levels and taking medications. Specialized nurses and diabetes educators can help people better manage their diabetes, but this type of care is not available in all communities. Some research has shown that peer support may be an effective alternative to professional support. Peer support programs help people address health issues by pairing them with trained, experienced “coaches” or “mentors” with the same medical conditions. 

How the review was done

This is a review of 13 randomized control trials conducted from 2005 to 2013, including a total of 2 352 participants. All the studies were combined in a meta-analysis.

  • All participants were adults aged 18 or older with type 2 diabetes.
  • In nine studies, participants attended six to eight formal diabetes education sessions run by trained peer supporters or community health workers. Education sessions were 2 – 2.5 hours long and occurred weekly or every other week. In some studies, participants later received one-on-one support sessions.  
  • In the four other studies, peer supporters and CHWs met one-on-one with participants to provide support on various diabetes-related issues. Meetings occurred in person or over the phone.
  • Researchers measured changes in participants’ blood sugar levels (HbA1c).
  • Results were compared to control groups who did not participate in peer support programs.

What the researchers found

Peer support programs helped decrease blood sugar levels in people with higher blood sugar (HbA1c >7.5%). Programs involving frequent or primarily one-on-one meetings tended to have better results. Participants with lower blood sugar levels did not experience the same benefits; their improvements in blood sugar were the same as people receiving the usual diabetes care.


Peer support appears to be an effective way to help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar. Benefits were seen in people with higher blood sugar levels and when programs involved frequent support meetings.


Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.

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