New study aims to show if a mindfulness intervention can reduce risk factors for type 2 diabetes in teens

Story by Julissa Hernández Sánchez

Lauren Shomaker (right) using the bod pod machine.
Lauren Shomaker, right, and a former research associate with the BodPod. Body composition assessments for Shomaker’s grant will be performed using the BodPod to understand how improving mental health might decrease diabetes risk, irrespective of weight loss.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious chronic disease listed as the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes can lead to kidney failure, heart disease and stroke, blindness, amputations, and shortened lifespan. This illness usually affects adults, but recently, it has begun affecting a much younger population, including adolescents.

There are major health disparities in diabetes, meaning that individuals from historically disadvantaged racial and/ethnic groups, as well as individuals living on a lower income, are at higher risk for the disease. Traditionally, the approaches taken to prevent type 2 diabetes have been geared towards lifestyle interventions, such as increasing physical activity and altering eating habits to be healthier to ultimately help reduce excess weight and combat obesity, because obesity is one of the key risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

However, with younger and younger populations being affected, these methods have not been very successful in teenagers, especially for those individuals who identify as racial and ethnic minorities. Shifting the focus to mental health interventions might be a better approach for at-risk adolescents. In a new study, Colorado State University researchers will lead a multisite study to explore whether a mindfulness intervention to combat depression, another risk factor for type 2 diabetes, can be more effective in preventing the disease than traditional mental health treatments or lifestyle interventions.

Mindfulness intervention

Lauren Shomaker
Lauren Shomaker

Lauren Shomaker, an associate professor in the CSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has received a $2.8 million National Institutes of Health – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health U01 grant entitled “Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Depression and Insulin Resistance in Adolescents.”

Together with investigators Rachel Lucas-Thompson and Lauren Gulley at CSU and other scientists at the University of Colorado Anschutz, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (Maryland), and Children’s National Health System (Washington, D.C.), Shomaker’s research study will compare different therapeutic approaches and explore whether they can help decrease depression in adolescents who are at risk for diabetes. These therapeutic approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy, a mindfulness-based intervention, and a health knowledge program. A preliminary study conducted at CSU by Shomaker has shown that a mindfulness-based intervention might provide positive benefits for teen mental and physical health. This new study will test these various interventions on a larger scale across multiple geographic locations.

“I’ve always been fascinated with and passionate about mind-body connectivity and health,” said Shomaker. “Learning coping skills during the teen years – a pivotal period for transitions and turning points – offers the potential to have lasting effects on mental health, health habits/behaviors, and diabetes risk. If these interventions to decrease diabetes risk are successful, they could be implemented in healthcare or other community settings in the future.”

Decreasing depression to reduce diabetes

Rachel Lucas-Thompson
Rachel Lucas-Thompson

This research project’s focus is not directed towards weight loss, rather the aim is to see if decreasing depression can reduce diabetes risk even without weight loss. This study follows teens at-risk over a year in order to monitor the success of intervention strategies long-term.

“Theoretically, mindfulness training could be suitable for altering the stress-related behaviors and physiology through which depression and stress contribute to diabetes risk – such as sleep, eating, physical activity, stress hormones, and inflammation,” said Shomaker.

The U01 grant is a cooperative effort between the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health, who will be involved throughout all stages of the research from the early planning to the implementation, as well as the monitoring of data collection sites.

Data will be collected at four sites: CSU, the Children’s Hospital Colorado/University of Colorado Anschutz, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Maryland, and the Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C. At CSU, Lauren Gulley and Rachel Lucas-Thompson are co-investigators with Shomaker. At Children’s Colorado, Megan Kelsey, Laura Pyle, and Talia Thompson are co-investigators. At the Uniformed Services University, the research partner is Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, and at Children’s National the co-investigators are Eleanor Mackey and Elizabeth Estrada.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.