Diabetes Is A Big Deal.
Diabetes is a big deal. Here in Georgia’s eight-county region of the Coastal Health District (CHD), our diabetes prevalence has been steadily increasing (from 10 percent of the population in 2011 to 13 percent in 2014). In the state of Georgia, there are an estimated 241,000 people living with diabetes who don’t know it. In addition, approximately 450,000 adult Georgians have prediabetes, a condition of elevated blood sugar levels, higher than normal, but not high enough for the diagnosis of diabetes.
Modern busy lifestyles make it easy to make less healthy choices. Many of us have been there after a long day, reaching for the cheaper and more convenient food items, than cook a healthy meal at home. Or we sometimes find ourselves bypassing our daily exercise to binge-watch five seasons of our favorite TV show. Our moto at the CHD is “Make the Healthy Choice, the Easy Choice”. Finding easy, healthy solutions for those at risk of developing diabetes can be a challenge.
The National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) offers real-world strategies to overcome challenges related to healthy eating and moving more. It is a year-long program with weekly group sessions for the first six months and then bi-monthly meetings for the last six months. The program is designed for diagnosed prediabetics or those who are at high risk for developing diabetes (scoring nine or higher on the CDC Prediabetes Screening Test). The goals of the program are for participants to lose five to seven percent of their starting body weight and to increase their weekly physical activity to 150 minutes, to prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.
The CHD has three NDPP-certified Lifestyle Coaches, each trained to facilitate the NDPP’s group-led sessions. We recruited participants to the NDPP through a number of diabetes blood sugar screening events at our local health departments. During these events, we were able to find residents whose blood sugar levels were in the diabetic range and refer them to healthcare providers who would link them to care and treatment; and we were also able to identify those who were in the prediabetic realm and invite them to our NDPP.
After the first six months, we are seeing a shift in attitude towards healthier habits. Participants are using the program strategies, which include: meal portion control, label reading, reviewing restaurant menus before visiting, drinking more water and less sugary drinks and carving out time for exercise. After surviving the Thanksgiving holiday, a participant said, “I took your recommended approach of drinking water before Thanksgiving dinner, loading up on vegetables first and NOT depriving myself and I enjoyed myself! Instead of the large piece of chocolate bourbon pecan pie I would normally take, I asked myself how hungry I was and answered by getting just a sliver. The taste was all I needed.” Small changes and healthier attitudes towards food and physical activity are helping these individuals reach their fitness goals and prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.
During the last six months of the program, we are looking forward to talking about ways to continue healthy habits, maintain a healthy weight and keep moving. We will be putting together a list of low-cost or free opportunities for physical activity (a few of the group members are looking forward to starting a neighborhood walking group) and referring to local programs that improve access to healthy foods, two local food access programs in particular: the Forsyth Farmers’ Market and the Everybody Eats Fresh FREE Fridays Network.
The Forsyth Farmers’ Market sells locally grown produce at affordable prices and participates in Wholesome Wave Georgia’s Fresh for Less program, which doubles EBT dollars (if you bring $10 of EBT funds, you will receive $20 worth of Forsyth Farmers’ Market tokens to shop with). The Everybody Eats Fresh FREE Fridays (E2F3) Network is a produce-only distribution program that works with America’s Second Harvest Food Bank of Coastal Georgia to move produce that would otherwise be thrown away (as the food bank is not staffed over the weekends and cannot monitor for spoilage). The E2F3 Network distributes at two different churches, a high school and a Federally Qualified Health Center – covering four weeks of each month.
We are working to reverse the trend of diabetes along the Coast of Georgia. Healthy eating and increasing regular physical activity are key components to avoiding the development of Type 2 diabetes. We can tell people all day long to “Eat healthy! Be active!”, but until the neighborhoods support access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, these healthy habits will not be intuitive. The National Diabetes Prevention Program is helping us help our residents live in their built/social environments, find the healthy choices and live healthier lifestyles.