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June 26, 2016
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Sean Doherty shows off the study's GPS software
Sean Doherty shows off the study's GPS software

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Diabetes study reveals correlation between location and blood glucose levels

Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing

Nov 18/11| For Immediate Release


Sean Doherty, Associate Professor
Geography and Environmental Studies
519-884-0710 ext. 2044 or


Kevin Crowley, Director, Communications & Public Affairs
Wilfrid Laurier University
519-884-0710 ext. 3070 or

WATERLOO – Sean Doherty, a Wilfrid Laurier University associate professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, recently published a paper that suggests location should be considered as a lifestyle-related risk factor for diabetes patients. The paper, titled “Exploring Blood Glucose Variation over Geographical Space,” reveals the results of a pilot study of 40 diabetes patients using Global Positioning System (GPS) software and a continuous blood glucose monitor.

During the study, patients were monitored for a 72-hour period. The GPS continually gathered information about a patient’s daily travels while the blood glucose monitor measured the patient’s glucose levels every five minutes. Doherty then used tailored software to generate blood glucose maps that could be read by health-care practitioners to better detect lifestyle risks in diabetes patients.

“Environmental, behavioral, and life-style factors such as a sedentary lifestyle, overly rich nutrition, and obesity are known to affect diabetes patients,” said Doherty. “However, the day-to-day human–environment interactions and real-life activities that cause an individual’s blood glucose to fluctuate remain relatively unexplored because of data collection challenges.”

Doherty, who partnered with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute for the study, was able to use new technologies to provide comprehensive data collection that was largely non-invasive for patients and required little input. Analysis of the data revealed that location and distance from home were significantly correlated with blood glucose variation in patients, although the effect varied greatly. For example, some patients experienced higher-than-normal levels away from home while others experienced lower-than-normal levels.

“The takeaway message is that location matters to your health, as does your distance from home, and we can use this new perspective to improve patient health and care,” said Doherty.

In the future, Doherty believes patients and caregivers will benefit from highly individualized monitoring and visualization tools that identify problematic locations in patients’ lives. Health-care practitioners will be able to recommend important times or areas for patients to pay special attention to their blood glucose levels.

Doherty also used similar monitoring systems in pilot studies involving the health of elderly patients and disabled children.


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