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Sugar Bytes

By David Mendosa

Last Update: November 15, 2000

To make a difference a Web site doesn't have to cost a lot of money. It doesn't need to be in a big city. It doesn't have to have a large organization behind it.

All it needs is one good idea properly executed. Sugar Bytes is such a site.

Started on a shoestring by three Canadian women in Orillia, Ontario, Canada, about two hours north of Toronto, Sugar Bytes has answers to the questions that people regularly ask about diabetes. What is unique about the site is the way it presents that information in a choice of three different levels.

It’s not about little candies…

The "Short & Sweet" bytes get right to the point. "We could have called them quick bytes," says Maureen Thornton, the site's president and one of its three founders.

This is the best part of the site, she says, because they have worked the most on these pages. The Short & Sweet pages now on the site include the basic questions that people newly diagnosed with diabetes usually have.

"They address the short term needs that people have kept telling us," she says. "Although that section will have additions, it will probably undergo the least amount of change."

The site's second level is "A Bigger Byte." This is when you know the basics and want to know where to go from there. Here the site has more in-depth information.

The focus of the third level of the site's information, "The Full Byte," right now is citations to journal articles. "But we will expand this level with full-content articles," Maureen says. "We know that diabetes educators are constantly looking for support information for the research and working that they do. So we thought, why not try to come up with information to help them?"

Maureen herself is a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator. One of her partners, Kim Babcock, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. The other partner, Laurie Mark, is an experienced administrator and is the site's webmaster.

They started the site to bridge the information gap that people with diabetes experience in Canada between visits to their doctors and diabetes education centers. Maureen explains that unlike the relatively quick medical access we have in the States, people with diabetes in Canada may have to wait months for an appointment.

"If their blood glucose levels are not exceptionally high—even if they are newly diagnosed—they may wait several months for their first visit for education," she says. "They also may wait several months between their first visit and their next visit."

The site's subhead is "Easy to Digest Information for Canadians." Sugar Bytes does have a Canadian flavor, but I noticed differences in only two areas.

While in the States we measure blood glucose in milligrams of glucose per deciliter of plasma (mg/dl), the unit of measurement in Canada (and most of the rest of the world) is millimoles per liter (mmol/L). The conversion factor is 0.055, so 100 mg/dl = 5.55 mmol/L. Or the other way around the conversion factor is 18, so 10 mmol/L = 180 mg/dl.

The other difference I noticed is in the brand names of some of the pills used to control blood glucose. The drug with the generic name Acarbose is called Prandase in Canada and Precose in the United States. Repaglinide is called GlucoNorm in Canada and Prandin in the States.

Only a small percentage of the site's visitors have come from the States so far, Maureen says. That's because the site has only been promoted in Canadian forums since its national launch in October.

"The U.S. population base is much greater than that in Canada, although the rate of diabetes in Canada is actually marginally higher per capita than it is in the U.S," she says. "They don't know we are here yet, and that will obviously change," she says.

As long as the visitors don't come looking for little candies—which I assumed the site was about when I first heard of it—they won't be disappointed. These sweet bytes of information can be very filling. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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