LSU AgCenter Launches Diabetes Education Program For Youngsters

Debbie Melvin, Reames, Elizabeth S., Merrill, Thomas A., Morgan, Johnny W.  |  11/29/2006 11:45:19 PM

LSU AgCenter agent Debbie Melvin shows these South Thibodaux Elementary 4-H Club members what their blood would look like if their bodies don’t produce the right amount of insulin. Melvin explained basic information about diabetes to the students and stressed that its effects can be life-threatening if left untreated. She also stressed maintaining a healthy weight by eating the right foods and being physically active can help to prevent or delay the onset of many cases of diabetes.

News Release Distributed 12/12/2003

The LSU AgCenter recently launched a diabetes education program in Lafourche Parish that will be taken statewide next year.

That curriculum, which is targeted toward members of the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development program, also will become part of a larger educational effort about diabetes to be taken into classrooms across the state.

During November, which was National Diabetes Month, LSU AgCenter family and consumer science agent Debbie Melvin and Lafourche Parish nurse Susan Earley presented highlights of the LSU AgCenter curriculum to 4-H’ers across the parish.

Melvin said they tried to make the lessons as fun as possible, but it wasn’t an easy job with a topic as serious as diabetes.

"They get excited when I show them the examples of what the blood of people with diabetes looks like," Melvin explained. "They think it’s real blood, and it does look real."

The LSU AgCenter agent said the lessons try let youngsters know that there are certain foods that have "what we call empty calories" and that such foods should be avoided. "These are foods that have calories but very little nutritional value," she stressed.

LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames and AgCenter agent Marie Lemoine, both registered dietitians, wrote the curriculum for 4-H’ers, which was pilot tested in Lafourche last month. Reames said the goal is to present that educational program for 4-H Clubs across the state this spring.

In addition, since Reames also serves on a taskforce charged with finding ways to bring similar educational programs into public school classrooms across the state, the LSU AgCenter curriculum also will become a part of that effort for all Louisiana students.

The larger effort, which is being directed by the Louisiana Department of Education, resulted from legislation introduced by state Rep. Warren Triche of Lafourche Parish last year. Triche’s interest was fueled by the death of a 10-year-old friend of his family, who died from unrecognized diabetes symptoms.

"This legislation mandates implementing age- and grade-appropriate curriculum for diabetes awareness education in schools," Reames explained. "The task force is trying to find existing material to bring into those classrooms, but, in the meantime, we also developed this curriculum that allows us to bring messages about diabetes to our 4-H students.

"We hope to get the word out to them through our educational program by March. Then the program we’ve written for 4-H’ers also will be part of the overall curriculum for all Louisiana students."

There are 17 million people in the United States who have diabetes, and each day approximately 2,200 additional people are diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.

"Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States," Reames said, explaining, "It affects every organ system in the body and is one of the most costly health problems in America."

The new educational program for 4-H’ers, which was developed by a team comprised of Earley, Lemoine, Melvin, Reames and LSU AgCenter agent Katherine Ordeneaux, is dubbed "Help a Friend, Help Yourself – Learn the Signs of Diabetes." It gives the students basic information to help them to understand the two types of diabetes.

Those are Type 1, which also is known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, and Type 2, which formerly was called adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes.

"In Type 1 diabetes the pancreas can’t make insulin, and this type of diabetes makes up 5 percent to 10 percent of all diabetes cases," Reames explained. "It can’t be prevented, but it can be treated with injections of insulin or an insulin pump."

Regarding Type 2 diabetes, the LSU AgCenter nutritionist said it is the disease that’s increasing in children and youth.

"Type 2 diabetes formerly was what we saw in adults, but it’s developing increasingly in children because of their weight and sedentary lifestyles," Reames said. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas can’t make enough insulin or the body can’t use insulin properly, the LSU AgCenter nutritionist explained.

Type 2 diabetes now makes up 90 percent to 95 percent of all diabetes cases, according to Reames, who stresses it can be prevented or delayed by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

"The treatment for this type of diabetes (Type 2) generally includes maintaining a healthy weight by eating nutritiously and being physically active," Reames said. "That may be enough to delay the onset or keep it under control – or people may also need to take oral medication or use insulin."


Debbie Melvin at (985) 446-1316 or
Beth Reames at (225) 578-3929 or
Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or
Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or

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