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Arnold School of Public Health

COVID-19 crisis adds new layer to diabetes study, researchers provide resources to vulnerable participants

May 14, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Less than two years into the SEARCH Food Security Study, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer to epidemiology professor Angela Liese’s project. Her research team’s regular interactions with study participants (e.g., calls, newsletter, survey instruments, website exchanges) now serve a dual purpose. The researchers are not only using these tools to move the study forward, they are providing much-needed support and resources to one of the most vulnerable groups affected by this pandemic: individuals with diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with diabetes are among those who are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Preliminary data from the first COVID-19 cases suggests that patients with at least one underlying health condition were more likely to require hospitalization (both with and without ICU admission), with diabetes among the most commonly reported of these conditions.

Launched in 2018, Liese’s study is funded with a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and aims to understand the impact of disparities in food security for youth and young adults with diabetes. The project builds on the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study and combines new and existing data to reveal the unique household food insecurity challenges and consequences experienced by youth and young adults with diabetes in the United States. It’s also the first study to examine household food insecurity as a mechanism for disparities in adverse outcomes among minorities within this population.

“As the COVID-19 crisis as progressed, we’ve become aware of questions and requests for information from study participants with regard to how to weather the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Liese. Thus, in addition to the typical study-related updates (e.g., study progress and participation rates, recipes, gift card information for completing surveys), the newsletter [pdf] from Liese’s research team now includes additional information in a section on “Coronavirus and Diabetes.” This includes links to information both for COVID-19 in general and specific to those with diabetes, and URLs to free related health and wellness resources now appear as well. Several participants have responded to these resources, expressing how helpful they have been to them as individuals with diabetes during this unprecedented time.

While Liese’s team focuses on South Carolinians with diabetes, the project of 15 collaborators across eight institutions has the capacity to provide resources and support to numerous participants through this multi-site study. Co-investigator Jason Mendoza (Seattle Children’s Research Institute/University of Washington) is collecting information in Washington while Kate Sauder’s team (University of Colorado, Denver) is leading the study in Colorado – with their existing connections to individuals with diabetes offering an established conduit for providing guidance during this unprecedented time.


Study examines connection between access to healthcare and glycemic control among youth and young adults with diabetes in South Carolina

Angela Liese awarded $3.3 million NIH grant to research the impact of disparities in food security for youth and young adults with diabetes

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