Preventing Diabetes

Linda Benedict, Reames, Elizabeth S.  |  11/25/2008 10:22:22 PM

Beth Reames

Diabetes is a serious disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or respond properly to insulin, a hormone that allows blood glucose (sugar) to enter the cells of the body and be used for energy.

Read the diabetes definitions.

Diabetes is growing to epidemic proportions and is the biggest public health crisis of the 21st century, according to the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes has no cure.

Many people are unaware they have diabetes and are, therefore, not receiving recommended treatment to prevent or delay the onset of complications. Many additional persons suffer from a condition called pre-diabetes, in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Research shows that some long-term damage to the body, especially the heart and circulatory system, may already occur during pre-diabetes. Other studies have shown that if you take action to control your blood glucose when you have pre-diabetes, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes from developing. Most people with pre-diabetes develop type 2 diabetes in 10 years.

Research also shows that lifestyle practices, including a healthy diet and physical activity, may prevent or delay the development of the most common type of diabetes, type 2, occurring in about 95 percent of cases.

Read facts about diabetes.

Each year, more than 15,000 U.S. youth are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Although type 2 diabetes in youth is not common, it is being diagnosed more frequently in children and adolescents, particularly in American Indians, African Americans and Hispanic populations.

The LSU AgCenter diabetes awareness program, "Help a Friend, Help Yourself – Learn the Signs of Diabetes," is targeted primarily at young people involved in 4-H. It gives the students information about the signs of diabetes, such as extreme thirst, frequent urination, increased appetite, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, drowsiness, weakness, abdominal pain and nausea.
 
The diabetes awareness education program encourages children to alert an adult if they or a friend experience those symptoms. The curriculum also focuses on healthy eating and physical activity to maintain a healthy weight, which may help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. The curriculum includes a series of four lessons with lesson plans, fact sheets, an interactive exhibit and evaluation instrument.

Approximately 1,000 youth have participated in the Help a Friend, Help Yourself Program. Evaluations from program participants show an increased awareness of diabetes, its symptoms and the importance of healthy eating and physical activity to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. An outgrowth of the program is the formation of small food and fitness groups that meet regularly to receive additional information about healthy eating and physical activity and participate in nutrition and exercise activities.
 
Read tips to prevent diabetes.

The LSU AgCenter’s Diabetes Education Awareness Recommendations (DEAR) program provides information on eating healthfully to help control blood glucose levels. The DEAR program was developed to improve the health and well-being of Louisiana families by promoting the adoption of recommended diabetes self-management goals including eating healthfully, exercising regularly, monitoring blood sugar levels and visiting health professionals.

Extension agents have presented this program across the state, enlisting support from community health professionals and leaders. The DEAR program has been implemented in 64 parishes, and workshops have been conducted in 34 parishes for more than 5,400 people.

Besides the workshops, an estimated 400,000 contacts have been made statewide. These contacts received information through media outreach (television, radio and news articles) and walk-by displays at libraries, health fairs, hospitals, malls, grocery stores and congregate feeding sites. Individuals participating in the DEAR program learned to better manage their diabetes by following recommended practices.

Based on a telephone survey of DEAR participants, 80 percent reported they were still following at least one of the diabetes self-management behaviors they committed to adopt after participating in the program. Six months following their participation in the lesson series, 128 participants who had committed to adopt at least one of the recommended behaviors were contacted. Of this number, 102 reported they were still following at least one of the behaviors they had committed to adopt.

The list of behaviors includes these:

  • Visit a doctor or health professional regularly.
  • Eat healthfully. Exercise regularly. 
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Maintain blood glucose levels as recommended by a physician.

Beth Reames, Professor, School of Human Ecology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the fall 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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