A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Local programs in many counties helping Eastern Kentuckians prevent diabetes during pandemic

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Local diabetes prevention programs in many eastern Kentucky counties are helping people stay healthy and prevent pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes during the pandemic.

Research has shown that diabetes can increase the risk of complications from COVID-19. It’s estimated one in six Eastern Kentuckians has Type 2 diabetes, with many cases undiagnosed. Far more have pre-diabetes, with blood-sugar levels high enough to possibly develop diabetes.

Mary Beth Castle, Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle coach at the Johnson County Health Department, said both can be prevented by lifestyle changes. And she said she’s concerned the stress and increased time at home in the pandemic may be leading people to make fewer healthy choices.

Diabetes Prevention Program facilitators and participants at Juniper Health in Jackson, Ky. L-R: Bridget Turner, Rebecca Smith, Karen Kerr and Kathy Gay. (Photo by Parker Hobson, Appalshop)

“It concerns me, not that they’re eating at home, which is a good thing, but maybe they’re not eating as well and people are snacking more,” said Castle. “And one of the things they suggest through our program is not to keep snack foods out on your kitchen counter, and to put them in a cabinet.”

Castle adds many people may not realize they have pre-diabetes because there are often no symptoms.

More information, including a list of prevention programs searchable by county, is online at preventdiabeteseky.org, a new website developed by Appalshop and the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

In 2008, Johnson County resident Marilyn Morgan was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. She’s now part of her local prevention program and said she’s managed to keep her blood sugar under control.

But Morgan said it’s work to stay vigilant about what she eats and drinks.

“We’ve been at some of the local groceries that would hand out samples, and we would ask the lady handing them out, ‘Does this have a lot of sugar in it?'” said Morgan. “And then when we told her no, we can’t have it because of the sugars, she goes, ‘I’ve got it too.'”

Morgan added that since the pandemic began, exercising has been more difficult since she can no longer work with a personal trainer.

Castle pointed out that the Diabetes Prevention Program has virtual groups or individual phone sessions that guide and encourage participants to increase physical activity. She said it’s important to keep moving every day.

“If you’re sitting and you find yourself watching TV a lot,” said Castle, “and I think a lot of elderly people have been watching a lot of news – that when commercials come on, get up. Walk through the house, walk down the hallway, walk in circles around in your living room. Do not sit in that chair all the time.”

Diabetes prevention programs are being offered by the Cumberland Valley District, Johnson County, Kentucky River District, Lake Cumberland District, and Lawrence County Health Departments, as well as by the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center for Knox and Whitley counties.

There are also online cohorts that can be joined from anywhere.

This story was produced with original reporting by Parker Hobson of Appalshop.

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