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Healthy dose of advice: Program provides tips for preventing diabetes

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Samples of bean soup is passed out during the Diabetes Awareness Program at the Pitt County Agricultural Center on Nov. 15, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Friday, November 16, 2018

The aroma of caramelized onions and garlic filled the auditorium at the Pitt County Agricultural Center on Thursday afternoon as Justin Cefalu, an ECU nutrition-dietetics major, demonstrated how to cook a carb-controlled black bean soup for an audience of approximately 70 people.

Cefalu demonstrated the steps for preparing the healthy dish as part of the Recipe for Success: Prevention and Management of Diabetes program sponsored by the Pitt County Health Department in recognition of National Diabetes Awareness Month.

Diabetes is a chronic, widespread condition characterized by high blood sugar in which the body does not produce enough insulin or properly use insulin, the hormone needed to transport glucose (sugar) from the blood into the cells of the body for energy.

There was good news and bad news for attendees at the event. The bad news was delivered in the form of statistics. 

According to the Pitt County Health Department, almost 30 million Americans have diabetes, plus an estimated 86 million have pre-diabetes. In Pitt County, almost 1 in every 5 people has pre-diabetes or diabetes.

“Don’t let the ‘pre’ (in pre-diabetes) fool you,” said Renita Jones with the Pitt County Health Department and lifestyle coach for the N.C. Minority Diabetes Prevention Program. “(Having pre-diabetes) means you are on the path to diabetes.”

Type 2 diabetes can result in complications, such as stroke, vision loss and amputation, Jones said.

Good news arrived when Jones informed the audience that Type 2 diabetes is preventable. 

Weight control, exercise, nutrition and stress management are four components people can focus on that can help prevent diabetes, she said.

Jones provided simple tips for increasing exercise, such as parking a car farther away from your destination in a parking lot or even walking in place. For weight loss, she challenged people who are overweight to lose 5 percent of their current weight. Nutrition tips included eating more fruits and vegetables and cooking with less fat and grease. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, African Americans and other minority groups are at higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

To combat those statistics, the N.C. Minority Diabetes Prevention Program was established. It is offered through local health departments to increase minority participation in diabetes screenings and prevention programs.

Panelist Timmy Cordell, a Pitt County social worker, shared his experience as a participant in the program, which requires a year-long commitment.

“Longevity is important, but you want it to be a long and healthy life,” Cordell said. And for that to happen, “you have to have a mindset.”

You also have to figure out what is right for you, he said. 

Cordell discovered that walking did not work for him because of the pressure it put on his joints. Using machines where he could be seated while exercising suited him much better.

Another program highlighted at the event was Diabetes Self-Management Education for people who already have been diagnosed with diabetes and must learn how to manage it.

On the panel to discuss the education program was Yolanda Sheppard, who moved to Greenville two years ago from Long Island, N.Y. Sheppard described herself as a retired educator who now wants to educate herself.

Sheppard evoked a laugh from the audience when she reminded them that “rice is not a vegetable.”

She said she has learned to increase her water intake and takes exercise classes such as weight-lifting and chair yoga at the Council on Aging. 

Another panelist, Leisa Arnold, a dispatcher with the sheriff’s office, also participates in the diabetes management program. She loves to bike ride and is excited by what she has learned through the program. 

“You have to change your lifestyle,” Arnold said.

Calvin Henderson, a Greenville community leader who has diabetes, said he was “very excited” by what he learned at the program.

“It all begins with you,” Henderson said. “You can make the change.”

The support network offered by these two programs is so important, said Robin Tant, the health department’s nutrition program director.

“The participants’ testimony speaks (for) itself. People can learn from other people experiencing the same types of things,” she said.

A referral from a doctor is necessary to participate in both of the programs.

Support also is available through monthly diabetes support groups, which are free and open to the public. One group meets from 10-11:30 a.m. on the second Wednesday of the every month at the Pitt County Health Department, 201 Government Circle. The other group meets from 6-7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the Monroe Conference Center, 2000 Venture Tower Drive.

For more information about the support groups, the Diabetes Self-Management Education program or the N.C. Minority Diabetes Prevention Program, call 902-2361 or 902-2426 or talk with your doctor. 

Contact Karen Eckert at 252-329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.

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