Monday, February 19, 2018
Health

Corporations teaming up to fight diabetes

My grandfather was a doctor, and so he was used to people asking him for medical advice at the unlikeliest times and places.

One topic that often came up near the end of a big and wonderful family meal was dieting.

Grandpa Paul would push himself away from the table, wordlessly demonstrating his best weight loss tip.

Everybody always smiled, partly because our favorite doctor's generous belly demonstrated that his advice, though simple, wasn't easy.

But the smiles were accompanied by nods of agreement. Even in the face of mom's cooking and grandpa's belly, we assumed that willpower was all anybody with a weight problem needed.

I thought about this the other week at a community forum on diabetes prevention at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. UnitedHealthcare, the YMCA of St. Petersburg and Winn-Dixie pharmacies announced that they are expanding Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance programs around the Tampa Bay area.

These programs teach healthy lifestyle changes encompassing diet, activity and behavior modification. Tested and proven by top experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the diabetes prevention program is offered by many Ys around the nation. We learned at the forum that the first diabetes prevention class at the St. Petersburg YMCA has dropped 330 pounds.

UnitedHealthcare is offering the prevention programs to its members, but it's reasonably priced and financial aid may be available. Call your YMCA to find out whether you're eligible and how to get involved.

The corporate interest in diabetes is no mystery. Type 2 diabetes is a public health crisis and economic calamity. Experts at the forum told us that 25 million adults have diabetes — mostly weight-related Type 2. Another 79 million are pre-diabetic — likely to develop the disease if they don't make changes.

Diabetes officially is the seventh leading cause of death, likely an understatement given how diabetes contributes to the top killer, heart disease. In medical and indirect costs, diabetes carries a $174 billion annual price tag, said Dr. Chet Evans, chair of the Florida Diabetes Advisory Council.

Clearly it's a huge issue for patients, families, caregivers, businesses, taxpayers — in other words, everyone. Not surprisingly, talk at the forum mostly was about the fact that it will take the efforts of many to turn this tide.

Insurers can offer financial incentives to those who take steps to improve their numbers. Pharmacists can help customers learn lifestyle changes to become less dependent on costly drugs. Doctors and coaches can show how exercise and smart food choices fend off diabetes and its terrible complications.

Communities that build well-lighted sidewalks and fund safe parks do a lot to help people get moving. Schools that offer children healthy foods and active play are essential.

Families who adapt their traditions to emphasize love and fun over food are key.

But, as several participants pointed out, all that community effort won't matter unless individuals at risk of diabetes are ready to change.

Which brings me back to Grandpa Paul.

His tabletop diagnosis was correct, as far as it went: Personal action is vital to achieving weight loss, or anything else.

What happens next — who's there to help support that decision day after day, year after year — may be every bit as important. Pushing back from the table is good, but what's even better is gathering the right team.

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