Talking to Latinos About Diabetes

Education and treatment need to be tailored to cultural differences

By Manny Hernandez


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

May 2008 — When you talk about diabetes with Andreina Millan-Ferro, there's no doubt she knows her stuff. And if you're talking about Latinos and diabetes, she has an even stronger grip on the subject. With a background in nutrition and dietetics, she has been a member of the Latino Diabetes Initiative team for almost four years at the Joslin Diabetes Center. Andreina shared some of their findings with us.

Manny Hernandez: For those who don't know, can you explain what the Latino Diabetes Initiative at Joslin is about?

Andreina Millan-Ferro: The Latino Diabetes Initiative is a comprehensive effort to improve the lives of Latinos with diabetes and their families. It integrates a total of 11 members who work as a team to provide clinical care, education and research in a culturally oriented environment.

The patient educational program includes innovative and interactive activities such as the "Diabetes con Sabor Latino" (Diabetes with Latino Flavor) classes in which people learn the basics on diabetes care. We also offer salsa classes in a community setting. Through our research program, we are also dedicated to better understand how diabetes affects the Latino population and how they learn best. For instance, we have developed Rosa's Story, an audio novella for Latinos with type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, we also educate U.S. and international healthcare professionals to help them tear down some of the myths of diabetes among Latinos and raise awareness in the community about the elevated risk of diabetes in this population. We strongly believe that education and treatment need to be tailored to the cultural differences of patients. However, at the end, each person is an individual that needs to be treated as such.

MH: Can you tell us a bit more about the audio novella?

AMF: Rosa's Story is one of our babies. The concept behind it was to offer materials that catered to the health literacy and alternative learning preferences we found among Latinos. The reality is that most Latinos prefer to learn about diabetes from dynamic teaching strategies. In fact, Latinos are natural storytellers.

In a recent study, we evaluated different methods to communicate diabetes messages. We found that patients exposed to a combination of visually appealing brochures and audio materials such as Rosa's Story were more likely to recall information and implement positive behavioral changes in their lives.

Because of our findings, we are making a big emphasis on education: we want to make sure Latinos with diabetes know that Rosa's Story is an option available to them.

MH: Can you tell us about some of the trends you observe among Latinos and diabetes?

AMF: We know type 2 diabetes is more prevalent among Latinos than in the white population. They are also more likely to develop diabetes related chronic complications. They may have worse diabetes control that may be influenced by biological, medical, cultural, and social factors.

This disparity seems to have multiple causes and is not only limited to diabetes. As established by the Office of Minority Health & Health Disparity at CDC, "some factors that contribute to poor health outcomes among Hispanics include language and cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and lack of health insurance."

MH: How do you think all people touched by diabetes can get involved and help make a difference?

AMF: As a patient, think of how you can make a difference for yourself. Consider how many times you have attended a group or an individual diabetes education session. It is not just about meeting with your doctor. As a group, Latinos need to realize that we are facing an epidemic.

Although diabetes cannot be cured at this time, it can be very well-controlled. The future is in our hands. If we are parents, serving as role models in our communities is important so we can help create good living habits among our children as a means to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a serious disease and we cannot take it lightly.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 29, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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