May 13, 2008

Kentucky has an alarming number of individuals who have diabetes, but the disease can be managed and prevented through improved diet and physical activity. As a member of the Pike County Diabetes Partnership, the Pike County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service hopes to lower the number of individuals with the disease in its community by encouraging them to incorporate healthy eating habits and physical activity into their daily routines.

With the partnership, Pike County extension has taught diabetes cooking schools, participated in Healthy Kids Day and, most recently, helped develop four walking paths around the city of Pikeville, said Cristy Honaker, Pike County family and consumer sciences extension agent.

Diabetes is a major health concern for many Kentuckians. According to statistics provided by UK’s Health Education through Extension Leadership, about 8.9 percent of Kentucky adults had diabetes in 2005. About 40 percent of Kentuckians age 40-74 have pre-diabetes, which could develop into Type 2 diabetes within 10 years if lifestyle changes are not made. In 2002, about $2.9 billion was spent on treating diabetes in the state.

“Diabetes is related to a lack of physical activity,” said Paula Compton, chair of the Pike County Diabetes Partnership. “More and more people are overweight. So we thought if we promoted physical activity, we could reduce the numbers.”

The partnership developed four walking trails with funding from grants. Members of the partnership literally took many different paths before deciding on the four trails, as they walked the city to decide which paths were the most logical. Each trail varies in location, length and difficulty. Information on the trails is available in brochures located around the city, and the trails are marked with signs.

“The walking paths provide an opportunity to motivate community members to get out and explore the area,” Honaker said. “These paths may encourage people to take new walking routes and challenge people to walk even farther.”

While the trails are currently only in Pikeville, Honaker said the partnership hopes to develop similar walking paths in other communities in the county.

Not only has the partnership encouraged physical activity but also healthy eating. In the diabetes cooking schools, taught by staff from extension and the local health department, participants learned how they can make healthier meals while retaining flavor. The class covered many topics that focused on ways to improve blood sugar levels including tips for eating out, recipe adaptation and counting carbohydrates. Honaker said after taking the class, many participants said they have better control of their blood sugar. They changed the way they prepare meals and incorporated physical activity into their daily activities. As a result of this, many also lost weight.

The partnership also encouraged youth to establish healthy habits early in life by participating in the YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day and sponsoring a Dance Dance Revolution competition. Extension assisted with both events. The diabetes partnership purchased Dance Dance Revolution, a game that focuses on coordination and dancing skills, for each of the county’s five libraries as a way to get youth more active. Each library held a competition, and the winners advanced to Healthy Kids Day, where various community organizations provided information to youth and their parents on healthy living topics. The overall winner of the competition was honored with a certificate, trophy and reception as well as a gift card and a basket prepared by partnership members.

Honaker said the game and Healthy Kids Day gave many of the participants a new outlook on physical activity.

“The important concept for youth to understand is movement is for everyone, not just those involved in sports,” she said. “It was wonderful to see youth having fun while exercising.”

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