As we end November, also known as Diabetes Awareness month, I keep reflecting back on an event I attended earlier this month in Harrisburg. It was a diabetes health summit organized for health care providers by the Health Promotion Council and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention. As we entered, music was playing, and tasting stations of delicious looking healthy foods were being offered. Spaced around the room by large colorful banners, several speakers were giving testimonials about how they had changed their lives around from carrying the heavy baggage of obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes. Clearly this was not your usual diabetes conference!
Upon listening to several of the speakers, I found myself straining to hear just what motivated each of them to reach the holy grail of making health behavior changes. Most had several family members who suffered and died from complications of diabetes. Most had young children who did not want to carry on this sad tradition with them. Somehow the meaning came through from a combination of these family histories and the harsh reality that their doctors told them: they now have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Several were furious they never were referred to a registered dietitian to make the necessary changes until they were diagnosed! They expressed determination to change their diet, exercise and attitude to live longer for their children, and prevent them from continuing down this unhealthy road themselves.
Just what is pre-diabetes? It’s when your fasting blood sugars are above normal, 100-125 mg/dl, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Risk factors include: overweight or obesity, high blood pressure (now 130/80 or above), physical inactivity, an immediate family member with diabetes, heart disease, being over age 45 (although teens-adults are at risk), and race/ethnicity (Native American, Latino, African American, and Asian American at highest risk). Pre-diabetes is a warning call to make changes immediately to diet and physical activity to avoid diabetes. Sadly, 79 million (38%) Americans age 20 and over have pre-diabetes, and most do not know it.
Listening further, I found many speakers thought they were taking good care of their children by serving soda daily, eating out or purchasing prepared foods often, and always putting the children’s needs first. It is typical for a mother to put her kids’ needs first, but short-sighted. You need to take care of your own health and model healthy behavior, such as eating regular, healthy home prepared meals and allowing time for family physical activity. One women explained she cooks most of the weekly meals on Sunday, and that frees up her time to exercise with her family. Take a look at the family schedule, and plan what works best for you.
To learn more about ways you can prevent pre-diabetes and diabetes, as well as these speakers’ testimonials, check out Make a Choice's website Also, Penn State Extension’s Dining with Diabetes programs are offered throughout Pennsylvania and now online to view at your own pace. Any adult with pre-diabetes, at risk for diabetes, diagnosed with diabetes, and their family member are welcome to attend.