The Gainesville Sun
By Christopher Curry
More than 29 million people in this country have diabetes.
Suwannee County resident Ron Bovin is one of them.
Bovin, 67, was first diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about 15 years ago. He dedicated himself to losing weight and eating healthier, and eventually he no longer had to take medication.
But over time, unhealthy eating habits came back — and so did the weight, he said.
Bovin said the final straw came when his 90-year-old mother moved in with him, she started cooking meals and he slipped into a diet of large helpings of good-tasting but less-than-nutritious foods.
Eventually, his diabetes flared back up.
On Wednesday, Bovin found himself in a small meeting room at North Florida Regional Medical Center taking a two-day course on diabetes self-management with seven other people, including a co-worker with whom he’d formed an unofficial two-person support group.
“I need to get back on the routine again,” Bovin said. “It will get me kick-started and help me relearn what I learned 15 years ago. Over 15 years, all these old habits started to creep back up.”
Seated in a U formation at cafeteria-style folding tables, the group at North Florida Regional spent about three hours listening and asking questions as Theresa Davis, the program coordinator for the hospital’s Diabetes Center, detailed tips for exercise, eating healthy, checking glucose levels and the importance of undergoing A1c tests, which check the average amount of glucose in a person’s blood during a span of 2 to 3 months and give a snapshot of a person’s glucose levels long-term.
With diabetes linked to blindness, heart disease and foot amputations, Davis emphasized the need for eye exams, urine tests for microalbuminuria and foot exams.
She also stressed the need to eat healthy — or at least reduce the size of portions — and increase physical activity to lose weight and improve health.
“We’re not trying to make runway models out of anyone,” she added.
Doctors and health care professionals say developing and following the type of self-management habits taught at classes like this one are vital to living a healthy life with Type 2 or lifestyle-related diabetes. Davis said that, with 80 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases linked to obesity, so much of a person’s health outcome is determined by how he or she lives daily.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, you are kind of on the bus for the ride,” Davis said. “For the most part, the doctor is going to tell you where to go, what to do. With diabetes, you’re driving the bus.”
Health care professionals also see self-management skills as increasingly important because they feel diabetes has reached an epidemic level. The 2014 annual report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 29 million people in this country have diabetes, with the vast majority of the cases being Type 2, where the pancreas’ ability to make insulin decreases over time.
The current diabetes numbers nationwide are five times more than the 5.6 million in 1980 and more than double the 12 million in 2000.
Adding to the problem, an estimated 86 million adults have pre-diabetes, or elevated blood sugar levels that put them at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Kathryn Parker, the program manager for diabetes education at UF Health Shands Hospital, described the rising numbers as “scary.”
At the same time, she said people with Type 2 diabetes can take control of the disease.
“The thing that people really need to understand is it doesn’t go away,” she said. “It is a progressive disease, but you can control the rate at which it progresses.”
She said sometimes management of diabetes might become more complex and complicated than it needs to be. Eating healthy food is recommended, but at least cutting the portion size will produce some positive results, Parker said.
“Let’s just consume less calories and try to be more active,” she said. “You don’t have to join a gym; all you have to do is walk. I think we’ve made it more hard than it needs to be.”
Right now, there are resources available in this area for both people with diabetes and organizations that educate people with the disease on self-management skills.
Nonprofit Elder Options is about to launch two workshops on diabetes self-management that will meet once a week for six weeks. A weekly workshop on Thursdays begins on Jan. 22 at the
Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center, 2153 Hawthorne Road. A weekly workshop on Tuesdays starts Jan. 27 at the Elder Options offices, 100 SW 75th St., Suite 301.
For more information on those, contact Betty Flagg at 692-5219 email@example.com.
The nonprofit WellFlorida Council also is administering a Florida Department of Health grant program to provide monies to organizations that run diabetes self-management education programs in several rural counties where such programs are now lacking.
Those counties are: Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy or Union counties. The grants provide up to $15,800 per site.
County health departments, county extension offices, federally qualified health care clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, senior centers, rural health councils, area health education centers and health maintenance organizations are among the groups eligible to receive the grants.
The deadline to get applications in to WellFlorida is Jan. 30. For more information, go to the WellFlorida Council website, wellflorida.org.