"Just because a program exists, doesn’t mean it will help behaviour change. The right program, flexible enough to meet the needs of these women, needed to be designed." — Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe

Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe certainly has her hands full.

She is a scientist at Women's College Research Institute, an endocrinologist at Women's College Hospital, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and a mother of three. She is also one of Canada’s most outstanding diabetes researchers and is currently studying an innovative home-based coaching program that may help prevent type 2 diabetes in mothers who had gestational diabetes during their pregnancy.

Designing a home-based coaching program to help new moms avoid diabetes

Research shows that women who have had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes or GDM) are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

"I’m testing a home-based lifestyle coaching program for new mothers who had diabetes during pregnancy," says Dr. Lipscombe, whose research is being funded by Diabetes Canada. "I want to know if the program can improve diabetes risk factors and if women are able to stick with it. If successful, this coaching program could help prevent diabetes in this population of mothers and improve the overall health of these women and their families."

Real-life inspiration

The inspiration for Dr. Lipscombe's research came from her own clinical experiences.

"In my own clinical practice as a physician in Toronto, I saw time and time again that there was a gap in what was offered to women with GDM. When I was counselling women about what having GDM means for them long term, I didn’t have answers. They’d ask me, 'does this mean I’m destined to get type 2 diabetes?' The reality is that as early as within 10 years, they could get it. I was frustrated that I didn’t have a better plan or resources to help them make changes to improve these outcomes," explains Dr. Lipscombe.

After having a baby, things get busy. Dr. Lipscombe and her team would try to get new mothers to go back to the clinic to get diabetes testing done, but many of them wouldn’t come back.

"We offered educational programs, but had little success engaging this population when they’re, understandably, busy with their newborns," says Dr. Lipscombe. "Just because a program exists, doesn’t mean it will help behaviour change. The right program, flexible enough to meet the needs of these women, needed to be designed. This is what motivated me to apply for an Operating Grant through Diabetes Canada in 2013. I was ecstatic to find out we had been approved for three years of funding to run a pilot study for the coaching program I envisioned."

Changes with a long-term impact

What does Dr. Lipscombe hope will be the outcome of her research?

"We want to be able to engage these women, show they were able to make the behaviour change and that women who were part of the program had lower risk factors for type 2 diabetes," she says. "The program is fully customizable to the fitness and nutrition options available to each participant, and we hope this will help them keep up with the changes long term. Also, we want to know it’s feasible for health coaches to run this program within their current day-to-day schedule. Keeping low-cost and time effective are important if we want to integrate it more widely within the current health-care landscape in Canada. At this point, we are still gathering data but we look forward to sharing the results in 2017."

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There are currently 11 million Canadians living with diabetes or prediabetes. Donate now to help us fund researchers like Dr. Lipscombe who are working hard to slow the growing rates of diabetes.

Photo courtesy of​ Michael Wong, Women’s College Hospital​.

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