South Asian women are getting diabetes at higher rates.  A Northwestern study aims to combat these statistics with exercise.

South Asian women are getting diabetes at higher rates. A Northwestern study aims to combat these statistics with exercise.

Like many mums, Asmita Patel has struggled to find time to exercise in recent years.

Between working, taking care of her children, taking care of parents and taking her children to activities, she didn’t train much. That changed, however, last month when wife Niles and her 13-year-old daughter joined a Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine clinical trial aimed at getting South Asian women – who have high rates of diabetes and other ailments – to exercise more.

Now, Patel and her daughter participate in weekly Zoom workout classes and talks about culture, exercise and health with other South Asian moms and daughters in the Chicago area.

“I wanted to make sure I’m healthy so that helps me throughout my life, and I can also teach my kids as they grow up to understand,” said Patel, who moved to the United States from India around age 15. years ago.

Patel and her daughter are among 60 mother-daughter pairs that are part of the ongoing community-based clinical trial, which Dr Namratha Kandula started about three years ago. She and other researchers embarked on the project in hopes of finding a way to address the high rates of diabetes, gestational diabetes and cardiovascular problems among South Asian women in the United States.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 23.3% of South Asians surveyed in a nationally representative survey of American adults had diabetes between 2011 and 2016. In comparison, 12 .1% of whites, 20.4% of blacks and 22.1% of Hispanics surveyed had diabetes during the same period.

Researchers don’t fully understand why South Asians get diabetes at such high rates, but say a number of factors may be to blame.

South Asians carry weight differently than other groups, more often around their abdomen than in their legs or hips, said Kandula, professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Feinberg. It may also be due to foods popular among South Asian cultures. They also may not get much exercise.

Reasons for not exercising vary, particularly across South Asian culture, Kandula said. South Asians are a diverse group originating from countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.

“South Asian women and girls face really distinct barriers to being able to exercise and be physically active,” Kandula said.

Depending on the culture, some South Asian women may not want to wear immodest workout gear in public or may feel embarrassed to go to a gym in traditional clothing.

Some may not want to go to a class that looks like dancing. In the study, a group of Muslim women in southern India opted out of having music during their workout classes, Kandula said.

There’s also a belief in some South Asian cultures that the only reason to exercise is to lose weight, so thin people don’t need to go to the gym, Kandula said.

Yet there is perhaps an even more common reason why many South Asian women don’t exercise more: lack of time.

Shazia Fazal, of Rogers Park, said she hadn’t given much thought to her health before joining the study. She was too busy taking care of her children, her husband and her home, she said. She was eventually told she had prediabetes.

She learned from the exercise classes and discussions in the study that it’s important to take time for her own health, she said.

“We spend all day with these things and we don’t have time for ourselves,” said Fazal, who moved to the United States from Pakistan about 20 years ago. “We should also have time for ourselves. We just do these things and forget.

Exercise may not be a priority for many South Asians, especially those who were immigrants, because they are so focused on education and the needs of their families, to make sure their children are getting the kind of life that made them move to the United States in the first place, Kandula said.

“I think South Asians work hard,” said Shabana Saleem of Skokie, who is taking part in the study. “They don’t take time for themselves. They think they can earn money here and they work hard because they earn money for their children.

The study aims to see if offering workout classes and talks to South Asian women and their daughters increases long-term physical activity, increases women’s confidence to exercise, and increases communication between mothers and daughters about health and physical activity.

For the study, half of the participants are placed in an intervention group, in which the mothers participate in exercise classes twice a week and the girls, aged 11 to 16, once a week, and they also participate in Zoom group chats. Classes and discussions last 18 weeks. The other mother-daughter pairs are placed in a control group, in which they only receive brochures on the importance of exercise.

Researchers measure mothers’ and daughters’ physical activity levels through wearable monitors and take their blood pressure and weight before starting classes, after classes end, and then again a year after they first attend the training. ‘study.

Skokie Park District, Skokie Health Department, Metropolitan Asian Family Services and Skokie-Morton Grove School District 69 are partnering with Northwestern for the study, helping to recruit participants and provide feedback on research design.

“Our health is the lowest priority, it’s the last thing on our minds,” said Subia Javed, a family liaison for District 69, who helped recruit study participants and coordinate activities. “It’s really important to encourage them and get them physically active, otherwise we get diabetes and heart problems at an early age.”

Saleem, a study participant, said that since she started taking the classes, she has lost weight and her health has improved. She also enjoys taking exercise classes with her 13-year-old daughter, her youngest child who is otherwise often busy.

“We get the link,” Saleem said. “I can spend my time with her.”

Fazal’s daughter, Rania Zubair, 15, said she enjoys spending time with her mother and being physically active, especially after becoming “lazy” during the height of COVID-19.

“It’s really fun,” Zubair said. Exercise is important for physical and mental health, she said.

Fazal said that since starting classes, his cholesterol level has gone down. The study gave her and her daughter a reason to exercise, knowing they were expected in class every week. It held them accountable and helped them think about the importance of staying physically active, she said.

“Before, I didn’t think much about my health,” Fazal said. “Through this class, we were much more active than before.”

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