Diabetes education classes reach out to colonia residents

Approximately 400,000 residents along the U.S.-Mexico border live without access to public services – including health care – within low-income colonias. As unincorporated subdivisions, colonias often do not provide basic infrastructure, such as running water, sewer systems, paved roads or housing built to code. These deficiencies, along with the tendency for these neighborhoods to exist in floodplains and low-lying areas, create the ideal place for disease to spread. What’s more, medical service within the colonias is nearly non-existent, so residents are forced to travel long distances to obtain health care – that is, if they can secure transportation or afford lost wages for time away from work for doctor appointments.

To help alleviate some of these difficulties, the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center (CBHEC) will introduce a new diabetes education program next month for residents of colonias in South Texas. The program, held in partnership with the South Coastal Area Health Education Center and county commissioners Joe A. Gonzalez and Oscar Ortiz, provides colonia residents with health education and resources to combat diabetes. The first series of classes will be held in early 2014 in Banquete, Texas, and will be repeated in Bishop, Texas, in March. 

Health educator demonstrates glucose testing.

Class attendees will learn how to properly test their blood sugar.

Studies show people who have diabetes are at a higher risk for depression than people who don’t have diabetes. While there is no single reason this occurs, lack of support and feeling overwhelmed can contribute. The new class will provide resources that will empower participants to take control of their diabetes.

“The goal of this program is to help people in these areas realize that they can manage their diabetes,” said Delia Martinez, interim coordinator of the Texas A&M CBHEC Diabetes Education program. “We want them to know that they can have diabetes and still live healthy, happy lives.”

Over the course of four, two-hour classes taught in English and Spanish, certified diabetes educators, registered nurses and a nutritionist teach basic information about diabetes, healthy eating and the importance of physical activity. In addition, participants receive blood glucose monitors and are taught how to properly test their blood glucose.

“We also want participants to learn about prevention,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, they will be able to implement changes at home so their children don’t develop diabetes at the young age of 18 or 20.”
During the first class, attendees learn their average blood glucose levels, total cholesterol, blood pressure, height, weight, body mass index and body fat percentage. This information is recorded and compared to levels taken at any follow-up visits to gauge patients’ progress toward improved health. This class also provides an overview of diabetes as a disease and covers potential short- and long-term complications associated with it.

The second class of the series is dedicated to nutrition. A nutritionist breaks down the nutrients provided in foods, including carbohydrates, fat and protein, and explains how much of each should be consumed at each meal. He also explains how to read nutrition labels to make grocery shopping less complicated.

The next class offers the opportunity for some physical activity. Participants learn how to test their blood glucose, then complete a short walking exercise and test their blood glucose again. Blood glucose tends to drop to a much healthier range, which demonstrates the impact that just 20 minutes of physical activity can have on blood glucose levels.

The final class provides some advice for managing stress. Negative stress can lead to health problems for anyone, but for people with diabetes, too much stress can trigger serious changes in the body.

“Stress directly affects diabetes in a number of ways,” says Maggie Scheerer, registered nurse and certified diabetes educator with the Texas A&M CBHEC Diabetes Education program. “It can cause blood sugar to go too high or too low and other symptoms can arise, such as muscle aches, diarrhea, tiredness, shortness of breath and headaches. Stress can also negatively affect our behavior by causing us to overeat, not eat, smoke or drink alcohol to cope.”

Health educators provide several proven strategies for managing stress so they don’t reach that critical point. This is also when they discuss how to set personal goals using S.M.A.R.T. parameters (making goals specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).

Health educators return to the area three months after the series concludes to provide follow-up labs and provide one-on-one consultations and resources for continuing care.

“Follow-up visits continue the education patients received in our class,” said David Leal, health educator with the program. “We can answer questions that patients are likely to have after applying the strategies they learned in class.”

Slots are available for anyone who is interested in attending. No pre-registration or RSVP is required. Transportation will be provided to those who need it. Please call (361) 857-2945 for a list of transportation pick up locations and more information.

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