In my previous blog post, I discussed my experience observing a screening for diabetes in children and adolescents living in small colonies in Chennai. We performed an OGTT (Oral Glucose Tolerance Test), delivered a lifestyle questionnaire, and sent blood samples back to the clinic for testing.
Based on the results, we invite those at risk or with diabetes to Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Centre for further testing and consultation with a diabetologist. The screening, testing, and consultation are free of charge for the research participant, making it easily accessible and affordable.
On the first day, we had a family of three children (or rather, young adults), for check-up. We first take them to the ultrasound technician, who assesses for fatty liver, polycystic ovaries, and other complications that can lead to diabetes.
Side Note: Above the ultrasound room, there was a large dark blue sign, which basically prohibited technicians from identifying the gender of a fetus while in the womb. I was slightly surprised by this law, and then realized it reflects India’s long history of patriarchy and acts to prevent sex-selective abortion.
After waiting (for a really long time, standing up, miserable, really hot), the diabetologist was finally ready to see our research participants.
All three young adults had high cholesterol level and some had fatty liver, and the doctor “prescribed” them with diet and exercise. They were slightly confused, as people often look for some medicine that can treat their disease or disorder. However, after taking the family to see the nutritionist, they began to understand more about health eating and the importance of physical activity alongside. Since their mother is the one who cooks all their food, she was the center of attention for this portion; however, everyone else was still encouraged to participate and learn about nutrition.
The way in which nutritionists and doctors communicate with their patients at Dr. Mohan’s is really tailored towards the Indian lifestyle. These professionals understand the built environment of their patients, such as their access to food and other resources for leading healthy lifestyles. For example, Dr. Mohan’s centre has developed High Fiber White Rice. This reflects the high glycemic index (means the sugar gets into your blood faster) of regular white rice, and the reluctance of Indians to eat the more fibrous brown rice (due to culture, taste, and appearance preferences). High Fiber means the rice will keep you full longer, and digest your meal better.
They also give suggestions for cooking Indian food in a healthy way; this is something very difficult to find in the United States, especially for Indian immigrants. As I mentioned before, my grandma suffers from diabetes, and she used to see a diabetes doctor who would give suggestions for healthy living in the context of an American lifestyle. In the US, we really have a need for physicians who are knowledgeable about different cultures and their respective lifestyles, and can provide treatment accordingly.
Today’s research participants will return next month for a follow-up. In the meanwhile, we will be bringing another batch of participants every week. This experience has shown me the slow-paced nature of research, and the importance of taking steps one at a time.
My next blog post, on education in India, will also draw from the lives of people I have met in my research and traveling experiences in Chennai. See you next time!!