Tag Archives: Women’s Wellness

Why women need to talk about type 2 diabetes

We recently spoke with Professor Jackie Sturt from Kings College London on the Women’s Wellness podcast about why women need to talk about type 2 diabetes and how the Women’s Wellness with Type 2 Diabetes program is helping women feel supported on their journey to wellness.

More than 200 million women across the globe are living with type 2 diabetes, which is a deficiency in insulin. Professor Sturt says the reason for the lack of insulin is often because the cells in our body have become resistant to the insulin circulating, which is necessary for glucose to get into our cells.

“Our body needs this glucose to function, but in type 2 diabetes there’s a problem between the lock and the key,” she says.

“The glucose is not getting from the circulating blood system into the cells that need it. So, there’s too much glucose circulating the body, which is what causes the problems.”

Professor Sturt says that type 2 diabetes now affects more than 60 million younger women, between the ages of 18 and 39, across the globe.

“There are genetic factors that affect your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, however, globally we’re living in this obesogenic environment, which is promoting sedentary behaviour and higher calory intake,” she says.

“These factors lead to weight gain and this can play a part in switching on those genes that trigger diabetes, so type 2 diabetes is certainly linked to lifestyle factors.”

Professor Sturt says women’s experiences of living with chronic health conditions differ from those of men so women need tailored support programs to suit their specific needs and concerns.

“Women have a reproductive stage of life, which can span between the age of 14 to 65, and this stage is very much impacted by living with a chronic condition like type 2 diabetes,” she says.

“Not only are women having to manage this complex metabolic condition, but they’re also having to manage their menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuations, pregnancy and contraception and then the depletion of hormones and heading into menopause and the weight gain associated with this stage.

“All of these factors make it very difficult for women to focus on their diabetes, so they need extra support and special focus to help them feel like they’re in control and they’ve got some sense of management of these twin health experiences.”

Listen to the full episode on the Women’s Wellness podcast here or read more about the Women’s Wellness with Type 2 Diabetes program here.

 

Pasifika Group Photo

Talanoa approach supports long-term change for Pasifika women with diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is a significant public health problem and Australian Pacific Islander women and their communities are experiencing a higher burden of morbidity and mortality from the disease. Despite the higher burden, there are few initiatives that are culturally tailored to improve prevention and management.

We spoke to Women’s Wellness Research Collaborative member Dr Heena Akbar from the University of Queensland about using talanoa, a community-based research methodology, to build capacity with Australian Pacific Islander women in Queensland to develop culturally relevant methods of information sharing and knowledge building to improve health outcomes for women with Type 2 Diabetes.

Can you tell us more about this project and how it came about?

The Pasifika Women’s Diabetes Wellness Program was borne out of wanting to look at diabetes in the Pasifika (Pacific) context because, as a person from Fiji, we are often faced with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in our communities, both in the islands but also in Australia. Here in Australia, we don’t have recent data, which makes it challenging for our communities to address this important issue.

I started my PhD in 2013 after talking to our community elders and members about how we might address this problem in a culturally appropriate and strength-based way. My PhD looked at “Socio-Cultural Context of Managing Type 2 Diabetes in Australian Pacific Islander Women Living in Queensland” where through participatory action research and embedding the Talanoa Pacific methods – story telling – we aimed to understand how our women who already have type 2 diabetes were looking after themselves and managing their diabetes within their family and community context.

The focus of this research was about working together with our women in the Māori and Pasifika community to develop awareness around diabetes and to promote diabetes prevention and management for our Pasifika community. We worked closely with our Pasifika communities to host three diabetes health forums (during my PhD) that provided diabetes education, promoted awareness around chronic conditions and undertook health screening for our people within a culturally safe community space.

Community led initiatives have a far more powerful impact on change. This is partly because we frame our work through cultural safety principles and cultural values such as identity, respect, reciprocity, spirituality, family and community, which are pertinent to Māori and Pasifika communities and our ways of knowing, being and doing.

Can you tell us more about the community-academic partnership and the value of this to the project?

Community-academia partnership is really important, particularly when we want to build a culturally responsive research path for academia and community collaboration.

Strong partnerships are also very important if we want to make a positive contribution towards influencing long-term health behaviours.

Our work is largely a partnership with the Pasifika Women’s Alliance Inc. (PWA), a culturally diverse network of women from across Oceania that seeks to build and strengthen a Queensland sisterhood of Pacific Islander women and to raise awareness of members as to their rights and responsibilities as citizens and encourages their participation in all aspects of community life. A large part of this is ensuring that our women are aware of their health and includes promoting healthier and stronger families through projects like the Pasifika Women’s Diabetes Wellness Program.

What is the Talanoa Framework and how was it used in your approach?

‘Talanoa’ frames how we talk to each other. Talanoa – is a Pasifika way of having conversations and dialogues between people and relies heavily on building and maintaining relationships. Talanoa with elders and members of the Pasifika communities are critical in community engagement and in the development of diabetes research protocols to ensure long-term benefits and change in health inequities.

In the Pasifika Diabetes Wellness context, it is important for us to build personal connections with our women and communities – using our Pasifika way – ‘Talanoa’ – which means that our women own the process of collecting the information that is meaningful to them.

It is also about acknowledging our ancestors, our culture, where we come from and giving that respect to our people. Trust, reciprocity, spirituality, nurturing is all part of our collective Pacific culture. Embracing these in the research processes is imperative to working respectfully with Pacific peoples and is very important in our understanding of our health and wellbeing.

We have approached this research using talanoa as a cultural framework and taking this approach has certainly made the research and collecting information more meaningful for our women and community.

What have been some of the notable outcomes of this project to date – for the community and academia?

Our research and this project have built strong partnerships with key stakeholders, including Griffith University, Diabetes Queensland, The Good Start Program for Māori and Pacific Islander Communities, and many community groups who are represented by our PWA members. PWA have been pivotal in creating a safe space for our women to engage in this research process and also to ensuring that the research mutually benefited our Pacific communities.

Through these partnerships, we have led three very significant community summits – the Pacific women’s diabetes health forums, in 2013 and 2014, and community-led Pasifika diabetes health from in 2016.

We have also worked very closely with our Pasifika communities and PWA to provide a culturally-safe community space to run diabetes education sessions, undertake health screening for our people and conduct Talanoa discussions to collect information with our people. More than 90 Queensland University of Technology students have also conducted community placements in these health forums.

This framework has been used worldwide amongst Indigenous peoples and is notably a very successful model because it is driven by the people and for the people using their own cultural frameworks.

We have also been instrumental in building individual as well as organisational capacity for our women to address health in the community. We developed a teaching module which is currently being used by the Federal Government to train and educate health providers in how to work with culturally and linguistically diverse and Indigenous communities such as ours.

We have presented in several national and international Health conferences including NZ, Hawaii, Canada, Cairns and here in Brisbane and were awarded two grants to run the Diabetes health forums and carry out the research (through Diabetes Queensland and QUT Engagement and Innovation grant).

Future grants have allowed us to develop the Pasifika Women’s Diabetes Wellness Program and the most recent funding will allow us to trial this program.

For more information about the Pasifika Women’s Diabetes Program, visit www.dawncomplete.org.au.

Dr Heena Akbar is a Lecturer in Public Health within the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Queensland and an Adjunct Fellow at the Queensland University of Technology.

Life after cancer treatment – bridging the wellness gap

With the launch of the Women’s Wellness podcast, we spoke to Professor Sandie McCarthy from the University of Queensland about the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program; its origins, its purpose and how lifestyle interventions can improve post-treatment experiences.

Why do we need a program for Women’s Wellness after Cancer?

The catalyst for the Women’s Wellness after Cancer program happened when I was working as a chemotherapy nurse many years ago. I would provide care for women over an intensive period of time and then never see them again and would often wonder what happened to these women after their cancer treatment. One day I ran into a lady I had helped treat and she looked really unwell. I asked how she was doing and she said that while the cancer was gone, she was left with heart failure. And this was many years before we fully understood the many side effects cancer treatments have.

So from that moment on, I started researching what happened to these women and was quite devastated as a clinician as to the after effects, and long term side effects, of the treatments that I had been administering. In those days these weren’t really well recognised – they are now.

Today we also understand that if we implement certain lifestyle changes, both during and after treatment, we can often prevent those side effects from happening or moderate their effects. And this was ultimately the impetus for the development of the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program.

What sort of lifestyle modifications can women put in place if they are undergoing cancer treatment or completed treatment?

There’s a raft of different lifestyle changes and modifications women can make after cancer treatment but what ultimately underpins success for women’s wellness is good psycho-social support. We’ve got to wrap these women in a support blanket, because essentially when they’ve left cancer treatment, they’re left to recover on their own – they are considered well. Many women don’t know what lifestyle changes or strategies to use to change their treatment outcomes and post treatment experience.

What we’re really focused on with the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program is quality of life and function for these women, and how lifestyle modifications can enhance that. This includes things like lots of movement, minimising alcohol wherever possible, eating a really healthy diet, getting enough sleep, minimising the effects of early onset menopause that is brought on by many breast and gynecological cancer treatments and minimising psycho-social distress.

So what can women expect from the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program?

The Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program is a 12-week, very supportive, lifestyle management intervention program, where we give a lot of clinical and psycho-social support to women. Throughout the 12-weeks we guide them through the lifestyle changes that they need to make in a very evidence-based way. So things like, what’s the best way to get your body moving, particularly when you’ve got pain or neuropathy; what’s the best diet to have – women who have undergone breast cancer treatment, for example, often come out of the treatment weighing a lot more than when they went in due to the nature of the drugs, so we support women to lose weight in the best and safest way. We also help women work through how best to manage the hot flushes and the sleeplessness that is a result of treatment-induced menopause and how to manage lymphedema, which is the swelling of limbs that can occur after some surgeries.

These are just some of the ways we support women during the 12-week program and we’ve had a great deal of success with the program. Since then, we’ve moved onto younger women with the Younger Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program because they have very specific issues around sexual function, fertility, social support and how to bring up young children in the context of this condition, for example.

What’s next for Women’s Wellness?

We’ve expanded the Younger Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program into New Zealand and Hong Kong and next year we’ll be developing a whole new program with Canteen for younger women and young men between the ages of 15 and 24. We’re developing a lifestyle intervention for them, which will be totally delivered by telehealth and designed by the participants – they’ve even designed the logos for the program.

We’ll also be moving into addressing issues like body image in our Programs, because a lot of cancer surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy result in a lot of bodily alteration that can be quite difficult to deal with, from the removal of breasts, lymphedema and stomas on the outside of your stomach rather than normal bowel function, for example. So we’re considering how to support women to develop a ‘normal’ lifestyle in the context of bodily alterations that come as a result of cancer treatments.

For more information about the Women’s Wellness after Cancer Program and other wellness programs, visit www.dawncomplete.org.au 

Three questions with… Professor Debra Anderson

Three questions with… Professor Debra Anderson, Founder and Director of the Women’s Wellness Research Collaborative (WWRC) and Dean of Health at University of Technology Sydney

1. What inspired you to establish the Women’s Wellness Research Collaborative?

I have been a champion for women’s health throughout my career and I’ve made it my mission to look at ways to help other women get the most out of life. This often comes down to making certain lifestyle changes that help us be the best we can be – from making better food choices, drinking more water, doing more exercise or taking up meditation.

So, after years of study and working in various roles with other likeminded researchers, I saw an opportunity to bring together some of the brightest minds in women’s wellness and form the Women’s Wellness Research Collaborative. We’re an international collective of women’s health researchers, focused on helping women live life to the fullest, at every stage of life – from younger women, through to midlife women, women with a cancer diagnosis and women with type 2 diabetes. I think that if we can successfully support women to change certain lifestyle habits then we have the potential to improve their lives and their health trajectory as they progress through life.

2. What is the greatest health challenge facing women today?

There is a lot ‘wellness’ information out there for women that was overwhelming and not evidenced-based – and this presents a real challenge for women today.

Women often don’t know where to turn to for practical, evidence-based information about how to improve their health and wellbeing. I wanted to be able to help women sift through the noise in the wellness and wellbeing space and provide them with evidence-based information to support their quality of life.

3. What impact do you hope the WWRC will have on the health and wellbeing of women across Australia and the world?

Our goal is to help women ‘be the best they can be’ regardless of their age, culture or current health status.

We aim to have a strong impact on women’s health and wellbeing both nationally and globally by supporting women with the latest evidence-based, age and culturally appropriate programs and information that is easy to understand and supports their health and wellbeing at every stage of life.