VA: Battle buddies can help fight obesity in vets

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs researchers are finding that battle buddies can help save lives, even when it comes to fighting obesity.

Dr. Michele Heisler, a VA physician and director at the Michigan Center for Diabetes Translation Research, said officials have found that veterans struggling with obesity and diabetes are more likely to follow physicians’ advice, stick to their diets and stay on their medications if they engage in support groups with other veterans. Now outside researchers are looking to see if the same lessons can be applied to civilian populations.

Diabetes isn’t a veteran-specific problem, but it is a huge health concern within the VA. Nearly 20 percent of veterans receiving care at VA facilities suffer from the disease, and more than two-thirds are considered overweight.

Heisler said that similar to their civilian peers, VA physicians have trouble keeping those patients on strict diets and medication routines. But the peer support can help with those “self management” issues, at least in the short term.

VA officials said they’re expanding their peer-to-peer-research to see what other lessons can be learned from patients’ behavior, either for veterans care programs or nationwide approaches to battling those health problems.

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