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Health & Wellness: Healthy Eating, Exercise Part of Process in Preventing Diabetes

on November 11, 2012 8:15 AM

Guilt is a feeling that no one likes to experience. But when it comes to our health, we need to let our guilt dissolve or let it be a motivator to take action for a better lifestyle, or we may pay the consequences.

November, which is National Diabetes Month, is no better time to get a grip on your health.

“It’s hard to get people to realize that they are at risk for diabetes,” Amy Leffard, a certified diabetes educator at Mount Nittany Medical Center, says. “The worst thing about type 2 diabetes is that most people associate it with guilt. If we can take that guilt factor out, we hope we can have people come in and get tested and then go from there.”

There are three major types of diabetes. Type 1 is most often diagnosed in children, teens, or young adults. The body makes little or no insulin, and daily injections of insulin are necessary. Type 2, the most common type, occurs most often in adulthood. High obesity rates have contributed to rising numbers of teens and young adults being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that develops at any time during pregnancy in a woman who does not have diabetes.

More than 20 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 40 million Americans have pre-diabetes (early type 2 diabetes). Type 2 diabetes develops slowly, so some people have no symptoms.

“As far as prevention goes, we’re trying to get people to live healthy and prevent diabetes rather than get it and have to deal with it,” Leffard says. “A lot of type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented by just healthy eating and exercise.”

Leffard says that diabetes prevention includes “having a stable weight, eating as healthy as you can, and moving your body every day.”

“Everyone should be tested periodically,” she says, “especially if you’re at high risk.”

Many factors come into play that can put a person at high risk for diabetes. Some include family history, and African Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans are all at more risk than Caucasians.

In addition, having gestational diabetes, giving birth to a baby over more than nine pounds, and old age all contribute to the chances of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. After age 45, the chances of being diagnosed with diabetes increase. After age 65, the chances are greatly increased.

“That’s just part of the process,” Leffard says. “We can’t feel guilty about just getting older. Lets face it, we’re really all at risk. The smartest thing to do is call your doctor and share your concern. He or she will know which labs to draw to find out if you are at risk or have diabetes.”

Leffard first got involved with diabetes when she was a floor nurse at JC Blair Memorial Hospital in Huntingdon. “I was involved with some other nurses in Huntingdon, and we developed a diabetes plan. Nothing was available in that area, so we started classes.”

While it was hard to get time off from her job for the classes, she still managed to teach in the evenings, and sometimes during the day, in the education building across the parking lot from the hospital. She also was working toward becoming a certified diabetes educator.

“I wanted to do more of it,” she says. “It’s something that I enjoy doing.”

She applied for a job at Mount Nittany Health in 2006, and she now leads education classes and a diabetes support group — Life with Diabetes — each month at the medical center.

“Mount Nittany is really all about prevention, early detection, and giving quality care to those who have diabetes,” she says. “We want people to do the things that they can in an effort to prevent diabetes.

Leffard mediates and facilitates conversation among the group. Life with Diabetes is a series of four classes with a three-month follow-up.

“Sometimes we have speakers who provide information and education,” Leffard says. “And sometimes we are just a sounding board for patients who have diabetes. We help patients fill in the gaps and send them in the right direction.”

Members can come share life experiences and get up to date on the newest information on diabetes. At the meetings, they cover everything from A to Z — what is diabetes, how to eat, how to exercise.

The size of the group varies. Over the last few years, the meetings have averaged about a dozen participants at each meeting.

Leffard sees the group as an important part in the fight against diabetes.

“Trying to help make resources more accessible is the key,” she says. “Then everyone is living just a little bit healthier.”

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