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Seth Berkowitz, MD, MPH

A research team led by Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the division of general medicine and clinical epidemiology, has received a five-year, nearly $3 million R01 award from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to better understand how addressing health-related social needs improves health outcomes for people with type 2 diabetes. The team includes investigators in the department of biostatistics and at OCHIN, a nonprofit organization that provides information technology support to community health centers.

According to Dr. Berkowitz, health-related social needs, including food insecurity, housing instability, and transportation barriers, affect more than 6 million people with type 2 diabetes. Individuals with type 2 diabetes who have unmet social needs are more likely to have more blood sugar highs and lows, high blood pressure, and high LDL cholesterol. As a result, they are at higher risk for complications of diabetes, including kidney disease and heart disease.

Since unmet social needs are one of the main reasons that individuals who are systematically marginalized based on race, ethnicity, and income are at higher risk for complications, the findings of this research may have important implications for advancing health equity.

“When you have type 2 diabetes, there is a lot you are asked to do — take medications, change your diet, increase exercise. Adding food insecurity and other barriers just makes it that much harder to stay healthy,” said Berkowitz.

Read more from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.