As a third-year pharmacy student in the British city of Leicester, Zainab Ali has made a cause of reducing the prevalence of diabetes at home.

This week, Ali has taken her cause overseas to Louisville.

Ali is among 15 students from the United Kingdom are in Louisville this week to launch an international partnership focused on developing interventions for diabetes.

“Perhaps we could come here, learn a little bit from the people around here and also perhaps give them new fresh ideas about what we’re doing, too,” Ali said.

The partnership, between Louisville City Collaborative and De Montfort University Leicester in the UK, allows students to spread awareness about diabetes prevention and treatment throughout Louisville.

The students are volunteers in DMU’s Square Mile program, which uses the university’s academic resources and student volunteers to offer services in the Leicester community. Through Square Mile, students have worked with Diabetes UK to identify and support people with Type 2 diabetes living in underserved communities in Leicester.

During their time in Louisville, students will offer free diabetes risk assessments and advise participants on lifestyle changes to prevent or help lessen the symptoms associated with diabetes.

In Kentucky, 12.5 percent of the population is estimated to have diabetes, according to a recent report by American’s Health Rankings. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, which accounts for about 95 percent of diagnoses. Type 2 diabetes is also preventable through diet and physical activity.

The students in the program have spent much of their time visiting area YMCAs and speaking with elementary school students about diabetes prevention.

Francesca Ashurst, a third-year health studies student at DMU, said America’s health system is very different from what she’s accustomed to back home.

“Living in England, we have the NHS, which means even though we pay a little bit towards it in our taxes, it’s generally free to access. The only thing we really have to pay for is our prescriptions,” she said, referring to the National Health Service.

But when it comes to the prevalence of diabetes in the UK and the U.S., there are similarities, she said.

“The diet here and the diet in England, although portion sizes here are bigger, and people seem to be a lot more unhealthier. It’s just the same in England,” Ashurst said.

Seven percent of Leicester residents have been diagnosed with diabetes, which is above the average in the UK, according to NHS.

Ali, who is a “community champion” through Diabetes UK, said she and the other volunteers have reached many people in the Leicester community by hosting community events. Ali said she was pleased to have the opportunity to do the same work overseas.

Ali said she’d like to borrow from the YMCA’s Y5210 program, which helps children develop healthy eating habits.

“That gave us a lot of ideas in the sense that when we go out for assemblies, we don’t really get written feedback from them to see if it’s made an impact in the children’s lives,” Ali said.

“So, perhaps we could implement that when we get back to get more of an idea of exactly how people are changing their habits to reduce their risk of diabetes.”

Steve Tarver, chief executive of YMCA of Greater Louisville, said diabetes has the potential to be the next huge epidemic in the United States.

“The idea of starting young with the children, thinking about prevention rather than treatment will allow us to reverse the epidemic and to save money and to make sure that everybody has a change to reach their greatest potential for good health,” he said.

The DMU students return to Leicester on Friday. In January, City Collaborative board members will travel to Leicester to work with DMU students to finalize details of the diabetes intervention and develop ideas for upcoming urban interventions.

(Image via Jennifer Morrow/Creative Commons)