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While many health programs might seek spousal support, rarely is the spouse’s health considered on the same level as the patient. Jannie Nielsen seeks to center these surrounding relationships in how doctors address diet, prevention, and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Listen and learn

  • How might school, social circles, and family members affect one’s propensity to develop type 2 diabetes,
  • Why type 2 diabetes manifests itself differently in other countries like Uganda and under different socio-economic patterns, and
  • What are mental risks associated with being a partner of a type 2 diabetes and how this might be addressed with her research.

Jannie Nielsen is an assistant professor with the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center. Her research focuses on a new angle: she wants to study how people who are socially or biologically related resemble and affect each other regarding diabetes development and health consequences.

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In other words, she’d like to quantify in more solid terms how relationships, whether spousal or social, determine behavioral risk factors of diabetes. She mentions a study in England that showed the higher BMI of a spouse, the higher chance that person has diabetes.

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This certainly has a logic to it, and she therefore asks, “Why don’t we then include the spouses when we try to make people healthier?” Her research may help to do just that.

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She also discusses fascinating differences across cultures and societies reflected in our health, from a cross-sectional study in Uganda to a look at sample populations on islands off of New Zealand. She says that type 2 diabetes and related pancreas function differ across the world. For example, one man in Uganda they worked with who had type 2 diabetes was 55 and never had weight issues. Yet he has severe complications from type 2 diabetes derived from one of the common causes like malfunctioning pancreatic beta cells.

For him, she says the challenges to improve his health centered on accessing a more diverse diet, which, without resources, is especially challenging. She’s now working on gaining funding for a “complex interventions” study that touches on many variables.

For more about this issue, she suggests checking out the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center.

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