“Uncontrolled diabetes during pregnancy creates huge health risks for both mother and child, including birth defects, miscarriage, and increased risk of diabetes during subsequent pregnancies or later in life,” explains Dr. Lois Jovanovič, a pioneering researcher on diabetes in pregnancy, Chief Scientific Officer at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, and Medical Director of Semillas de Cambio. “We are thrilled to continue working with the March of Dimes to bring Semillas de Cambio to the community.”

Semillas de Cambio focuses on encouraging physical activity, nutritious eating, breastfeeding, and family planning to local women who had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy to prepare them for a healthier future pregnancy and prevent type 2 diabetes. The program’s toolkit is written in Spanish to serve Latina women, who are at especially high risk for diabetes. The seven-week program consists of weekly 90-minute classes and includes goal-setting for outside activities to promote health, such as eating more vegetables and increasing exercise. “These classes are being taught by our team at Sansum Diabetes now, as we begin the program’s second year,” states Mary Conneely, a bilingual diabetes educator at the Institute. “However, our goal is for Semillas de Cambio to grow and become entirely community-led by 2014, with all the classes taught by women who have been trained as peer health advocates, or ‘Promotoras.’”

The program has begun to fill a key gap in local health services, says Dr. Kristin Castorino, Clinical Research Physician at Sansum Diabetes and Project Director of Semillas de Cambio. “Low-income women fortunately get emergency MediCal coverage during pregnancy, which allows them to receive basic health care at the Santa Barbara County Health Department’s Diabetes and Pregnancy Clinic. However, this coverage expires six-to-eight weeks after childbirth. Often the health of these women declines in the months and years that follow, and they might not see a doctor until they find out they are pregnant again. But, by this time, fetal development has already begun, and this is the time when uncontrolled diabetes in the mother is most likely to cause birth defects or miscarriage. Now that the Semillas program is underway, these women have the resources and support necessary to maintain good health and nutrition prior to their next pregnancy. This in turn, has a positive impact on the health of their next child.”

During 2012, the first year of Semillas de Cambio, the focus was on developing the toolkit and training the first class of Promotoras. According to Dr. Castorino, “We invited seven women who were already involved in other Sansum Diabetes community programs, such as the Ocho Pasos (“Eight Steps”) nutrition classes at the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, or, one of our Walking Groups. We expected that these women could make great Promotoras, but they have exceeded our expectations with their passion, motivation, and dedication.”

One of these passionate future Promotoras is Maria Arias who reflects that “I have learned a lot about sugar, salt, and healthy eating. I like to show other people what I am learning. Thanks to the Semillas training, I feel very comfortable doing so.”

“We trained 16 women in our inaugural class in February of this year, and three of them have completed both Sansum Diabetes Semillas de Cambio curriculum and a separate 40-hour series of classes run by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department,” said Oralia Madera, Interim Project Coordinator “These women and I are now preparing to help teach the first official round of Semillas classes. As the program expands, we also hope to reach women who take part in the County’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program and the Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Program (MCAH).”

Dr. Jovanovič emphasizes that Semillas de Cambio is just one part of a larger effort to treat diabetes during pregnancy. She points out that “Diabetes in pregnancy is projected to cause more birth defects than anything else in the 21st century. At the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, we are global leaders in teaching mothers how they and their children can live healthier, happier lives.”

About Sansum Diabetes Research Institute

Sansum Diabetes Research Institute is an internationally recognized research center devoted to the prevention, treatment and cure of diabetes. Dr. William D. Sansum, who brought renown to Santa Barbara in 1922 as the first physician in the U.S. to produce and administer life-saving insulin to patients with diabetes, founded the nonprofit organization in 1944.

The Institute has gained global acclaim for its work to develop an artificial pancreas, its success in developing protocols to increase the incidence of healthy babies born to women with diabetes, and its work with people with and at risk for type 2 diabetes. Physicians and researchers continue to develop new treatment protocols for people with diabetes, including new drugs and medical devices.

It is our intention to use our past and present accomplishments to guide us into the future – to tap into the energy and commitment that made Sansum Diabetes Research Institute what it is today – a worldwide leader in diabetes research, prevention, and treatment. For more information on Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, contact Sarah Ettman-Sterner at (805) 682-7638 or settman-sterner@sansum.org.

About the March of Dimes

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/marchofdimesca and www.twitter.com/modcal. For the latest resources and information, visit www.marchofdimes.com/ca or http://www.nacersano.org/.

About the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department

The mission of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is to improve the health of our communities by preventing disease, promoting wellness, and ensuring access to needed health care. For more detail please visit http://www.countyofsb.org/phd/default_all.aspx?id=23554&menu2id=1310.

The Sansum Diabetes Research Institute Semillas de Cambio education team includes:(back row, left to right): Karina Santos, Oralia Madera, Aurora Mendez, Lucrecia Garcia, Martha Meza, Maria Nava, Elizabeth Arias, Mary Conneely, (front row, left to right): Dr. Kristin Castorino, Maria C. Arias, Margarita Molina and Leila Garcia. Courtesy photo: Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.


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