For over 40 years, I have watched diabetes education grow and change in the United States. Quality education has really made a difference in the lives of people with diabetes. I tell my own patients that my job is to give them all the information they need to decide what they are willing and able to do to live better.
While American diabetes educators have done an incredible job over the past few decades, I learned this year that educators in China have other great methods we could be using. Two years ago, the American Association of Diabetes Educators Accreditation Program agreed to accredit a new and exciting program: the China International Diabetes Education Program.
Dr. Nancy Cheng, Director of the China International Diabetes Program, has been leading diabetes education for 15 years. Dr. Cheng and I trained 25 experienced doctors to teach people with diabetes the best ways to control the condition. They then went back to their home cities to teach other doctors what they had learned, and to lead diabetes programs for their patients. At this time, only doctors are allowed to be instructors. But, we are working with the Ministry of Health to convince them that nurses, dietitians and pharmacists are wonderful diabetes educators in America and would do equally well in China.
It was wonderful to teach these doctors, but it was also wonderful to learn from them. When I went back to China this year, I was amazed at the programs they had developed. In two cities, they now have weekend diabetes education programs in the mountains and lake districts. They take about 40 patients by bus to a resort hotel and hold health lessons over the weekend.
Blood glucose tests are done at the start of the program and several times over the weekend to check how well the patients are managing their diabetes with all this new information. I was amazed when the doctors got up in the middle of the night and did blood tests at 2:00 am in order to make a unique action plan for each person. Talk about commitment.
I also attended a lesson on food portions. Many Chinese people eat their meals family-style. Each person gets a small bowl of rice and then selects other foods from large bowls to have with the rice. With this system, it’s difficult to know how much you are eating. After we gave the participants plates with food portions, they were able to see exactly how much they had been eating. They were astonished at the amounts. This exercise allowed them to control their portions, and their blood glucose level went down significantly in just two days.
I think I learned more than I taught, and it was thrilling. With over 100 million people with diabetes, they need to keep this program growing. Good Luck China!