Free program at Rush Oak Park helps diabetics get a grip on diet and exercise

OK, I'm pre-diabetic. Now what do I do?

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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

As the numbers of adult diabetes sufferers rises precariously across the nation, Rush Oak Park Hospital Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Care has been charting positive results in a program designed to stop the condition that leads to diabetes in its tracks.

Project Lifestyle Change was introduced nearly a year ago to help pre-diabetes patients implement a healthy lifestyle that prevents the condition from worsening into Type 2 diabetes. An affliction suffered by tens of millions of U.S. citizens, pre-diabetes is reversible. But a large percentage of pre-diabetes sufferers will develop adult diabetes within 10 years, and once it develops into Type 2 diabetes, the condition is permanent.

The 12 month Project Lifestyle Program helps to catch pre-diabetes early and help participants map out positive diet and exercise habits to apply to their lives, said Lucy Mullen, the diabetes center program coordinator. And it’s completely free and open to patients qualified by a simple AIC blood sugar test. “The only thing they have to do is come to every class,” Mullen said.

Those classes are held once per week for the first month, and spread out over the ensuing 11 months. In the beginning, the sessions include directions about checking weight and glucose levels. A nutritionist helps participants design a restricted-calorie meal plan and a physical therapist assists in designing a regular exercise regimen.

Later on, participants learn strategies for healthy cooking and tips for dining out. Throughout the sessions, they learn to monitor their health on their own.

“I think it’s a very interesting kind of prototype for what we need to do for the people of America, for the epidemic of diabetes,” said Dr. Judy Carter, the medical director for Rush’s diabetes center. “We’ve had people lose weight, we’ve had people’s AIC’s go down. It really does work, and the trick is getting all the components together in an affordable and doable fashion, for a broad range of people.”

Kate Kaltenbach said she was initially surprised to find out her AIC tests qualified her for the program, especially because there was no history of diabetes in her family. But she was determined to do everything in her power to change the path her health was taking. “I do not want to be a diabetic if I can avoid it,” she said.

Kaltenbach was one of the early participants in the program, and has made significant changes to her lifestyle in the months since she started. “It refocused me on a new way of looking at food … and definitely on exercise,” she said, admitting that she once tended to gravitate toward junk food without a second thought. “I have totally changed that,” she said, since beginning the program. She’s also upped her exercise routine from warm-weather walks to year-round walks, and now incorporates ski poles to help increase the exertion. “Aside from some strange stares … I just really like it a lot,” she said.  

Kaltenbach has lost six pounds since beginning the program, “which is good for me, because I had not really been able to focus to do that before,” she said.  

One element of the program that seems to work well is the fact that the educational component is offered in group sessions. “We’ve always been trying to do group diabetes sessions. Sometimes it’s hard to organize, or hard to pay for, but it’s definitely very beneficial,” said Carter. “Somebody will be afraid to ask a question, and somebody else will ask it. It lowers everyone’s anxiety and it also just kind of broadens the kinds of things they’ll ask about, [or] think about. There’s commiseration.”

Carter said that Rush doctors agree that the program has the potential to do a great deal of good in the community, and in fact, it was funded in large part by donations from doctors. The rest of the funding came from grant money.

“The doctors are really behind it,” said Mullen, of the program and the diabetes center in general. Now, the program has more than 80 participants. And having just secured enough funding to cover another year, they’re hoping for many more members. Considering the benefits, it shouldn’t be a hard sell for those in need of healthy lifestyle changes. “It’s a free program for the community,” Mullen said.

“If you can get people to do half of what they’re supposed to do, it would show improvement,” said Carter. “I think that’s sort of what this kind of program shows. It’s not one trainer six times a week and somebody cooking your food for you. It’s what can be done with a reasonable level of coaching, support, education, and exercise.”

Mullen said if the program elicits enough positive results in its participants, she’s hoping that insurance companies will agree to cover program costs. She knows it’s a long-shot, but based on the positive results they’ve seen in less than nine months, she thinks it might someday be possible.

“Any time an individual is given information about his or her own health and has a chance to potentially modify a potential situation, I think that is very special,” Kaltenbach said.

Reader Comments

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Marie Hunter from Orem  

Posted: April 17th, 2011 9:11 PM

Absolutely fantastic program. I teach a Diabetes Management course in our nursing program and we discuss this constantly. What can we do? How can we motivate life-style changes? It's a requirement for them to wear a pedometer and encourage others to join in. We have group presentations proposing activities that will encourage even small changes in others in the community. Any support we can lend to stemming the tide of obesity is worth the effort. Education! Education! Keep up the great work!

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