UF/IFAS Extension helps Floridians ‘take charge’ of diabetes
By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, firstname.lastname@example.org
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Diabetes affects 29.1 million people in the U.S. — 9.3 percent of the population — and is the seventh leading cause of death in the country, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“In Florida, 9.4 percent of adults have been told by a medical professional that they have diabetes, and this doesn’t count those who have diabetes and don’t yet know it,” said Linda Bobroff, professor and UF/IFAS Extension nutrition specialist with University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Bobroff is director of the Take Charge of Your Diabetes program, a series of classes that helps those diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes better manage their condition.
“Take Charge of Your Diabetes covers most aspects of diabetes self-care, and is offered by UF/IFAS Extension county faculty in collaboration with local health professionals who specialize in diabetes management. Participants attend nine weekly sessions and at least two follow-up meetings to encourage their continued adherence to best practices for good blood glucose control and to check their progress,” Bobroff said.
Nancy Gal, family and consumer sciences agent with UF/IFAS Extension, spends much of her time traveling to various corners of Marion County to teach Take Charge of Your Diabetes classes to residents. Participants’ weight, blood pressure, and blood glucose (A1C) levels are tested before and after they participate in the nine-week program to see how the classes impact health in tangible ways, Gal said.
The A1C measurement reflects average blood glucose levels over the last two to three months, while measurements taken with a blood glucose meter reflect the blood glucose level at the time the measurement is taken, Bobroff explained. Both measurements provide valuable information to the person with diabetes and their health care provider.
“We know that if we can get A1C levels, weight, and blood pressure down, we can reduce the risk and severity of complications due to diabetes,” said Gal. “We also know that the best way to get those numbers down is through healthy eating practices, physical activity, taking medication as prescribed and other lifestyle changes.”
The most recent data from Marion County indicate that program participants reduced their A1C levels from 7.2 percent to 6.7 percent on average, Gal said. A healthy average blood glucose level for most adults with diabetes is represented by an A1C of less than 7 percent, so this reduction is a good sign that the program is helping people better manage their diabetes, Gal said.
Take Charge of Your Diabetes also collects information on participants’ lifestyle habits before and after their time in the program. Follow-up surveys revealed significant improvement in nearly all categories, which include whether people checked blood glucose daily, exercised consistently, used an accepted food system (such as carbohydrate counting or the American Diabetes Association food exchange program) to plan their meals, and adjusted calorie intake to move toward a healthier body weight, said Gal.
“Managing diabetes or pre-diabetes is a lot of work—I myself have Type 1 diabetes, so I know what people in my classes are going through,” Gal said. “However, I always emphasize that everything we teach isn’t just diabetes advice — it’s healthy living advice.”