Declare war on diabetes in West Virginia, feds urge
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BELO, W.Va. -- One day in late October, a van with "Jay Rockefeller" on the doors rolled into the Little Dove Baptist Church parking lot. Out climbed officials from the Centers for Disease Control, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health.
They'd come to admire Little Dove's Fitness and Fellowship program. They came because they're worried about West Virginia's high diabetes rate.
Inside the rural Mingo County church, person after person testified about big drops in blood sugar, depression, blood pressure and weight. "The exercise helps everyone, whether they've got diabetes, heart trouble, arthritis, whatever," said Pastor Jimmy Maynard.
The CDC officials never stopped smiling.
Individuals might not be able to change the processed food industry, CDC official Ann Albright said, but they can learn to minimize its impact in their daily lives.
They want West Virginia to create a network of anti-diabetes programs. "Churches like Little Dove can be an important part of that, because people already support each other," Marshall University's Richard Crespo, a diabetes specialist, told the group.
After the officials left Little Dove, they drove to Lenore K-8 School, where eighth-graders told about their new running/walking competition, sponsored by the Mingo Diabetes Coalition. "If we can get these kids active now, we stop diabetes before it starts," said coalition chairwoman Vicki Lynn Hatfield.
The next day, the officials met with the new Logan County Diabetes Coalition. One in six Logan residents has diabetes, but the county has almost no diabetes education classes. The new coalition aims to change that.
Later that day, at a Charleston conference center, Albright cited Little Dove and Logan and urged about 60 state health leaders to join forces to declare war on diabetes.
How to attack it?
Albright sees the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) as the major weapon. The 16-week program teaches people how to avoid harmful foods, create a personal exercise program and find new ways to relieve stress. It lowers seniors' diabetes risk by 70 percent, studies show.
Wood County's health department has people signed up for it in senior centers.
"In Mingo, it's going to be hard to get people to come 16 times," Hatfield said. At her diabetes clinic, she requires only two group sessions, then people meet with her individually. "I've found the times have to be flexible. People's transportation and child-care problems and job schedules change from week to week."
"Ideally, West Virginia should have a choice of programs," said Nidia Henderson, wellness director of the Public Employees Insurance Agency, "but if we don't get something going soon, we're going to be in big trouble."
PEIA's diabetes claims jumped 44 percent in the past two years. "Whatever will slow this epidemic down, I'm in favor of," she said.
Henderson wants to offer a modified NDPP class at government offices at lunchtime. The CDC says they can't cut the class time from two hours to one if they want to call it NDPP and use CDC materials.
"We need a little flexibility from [the] CDC if they want to work with us," Henderson said. "Providing the service to people and getting good outcomes is what matters most."
Meanwhile, the network is forming. In December, the Bureau of Public Health trained 65 West Virginians to lead NDPP classes. About 100 others will be trained to lead the 6-week-long Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, for people who have any kind of disease.
Jessica Wright, who oversees the bureau's chronic disease efforts, says she hopes that, a year from now, classes will be offered all over the state.
"The bottom line is, we want to help people improve their health," said Gina Wood, director of the state's Diabetes Prevention and Control program. "We will keep doing our durndest to promote the NDPP, but if people can get good results doing something else, then God bless them."
The Little Dove Baptist Church will start up again after Christmas. It might plug in a diabetes program at some point, Pastor Maynard said, like its members incorporated the Arthritis Foundation's five-week Walk with Ease program last summer.
"The important thing is to keep the fellowship and include anyone who wants to come," he said. "That makes it work for us."
Reach Kate Long at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1798.
"The Shape We're In" has been supported by a Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism fellowship, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.