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Evidence Summary

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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?

Background

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.

Conclusion

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.




Glossary

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

Related Web Resources

  • Type 2 diabetes: Patient FAQ

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    Find answers to frequently asked questions about type 2 diabetes in this resource. Help prevent diabetes: eat a healthy diet and limit fat, salt and alcohol, control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and do not smoke.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Patient FINDRISC

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    Use this risk calculator to find out your risk for type 2 diabetes and see if you should be tested. Many people with diabetes have no symptoms. Speak to your doctor if you notice diabetes symptoms such as unusual thirst, the need to pee a lot, lack of energy, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in your hands or feet.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Screening for adults

    Health Link B.C.
    People at average risk for type 2 diabetes should be tested every 3 years after age 40. You may need to be tested more frequently if you are at higher risk. Find out your risk with the Canadian Diabetes Risk Assessment Questionnaire (link in this resource).
DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

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