Health People, the South Bronx community health education and support organization that has pioneered the concept of “community in-reach” aimed at people most at risk of developing chronic and fatal diseases, announced today groundbreaking results and the expansion of its fight against type 2 diabetes in Bronx, New York City’s borough with the highest rates of diabetes diagnoses and deaths.
The only Bronx-based organization authorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to carry out the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) program, Health People reports that its first class of 15 residents from the St. Mary’s Park public housing complex have lost an average of eight pounds after only six months of the yearlong DPP sessions.
The CDC DPP courses, led by Health People-trained peer educators known as Lifestyle Coaches, teach people steady changes in eating and exercise. While the DPP program is proven to reduce the risk of diabetes for people who already have high blood sugar (pre-diabetes) by almost 60%, it is rarely available in low-income neighborhoods where the risks of diabetes — and its devastation — are highest. In Bronx, that devastation means not only the highest death and diabetes-related amputation rates in New York State, but, overall, 5,000 hospitalizations a year for diabetes-related foot ulcers.
“We have an epidemic in the Bronx that is taking lives too soon, wrecking quality of life and putting enormous pressure on our health care system,” said Chris Norwood, Executive Director of Health People. “When a disease overtakes such a large part of the community, it is crucial that everyone be able to help with education. That is why we developed a special six-week training to teach people who live right here to become the Lifestyle Coaches.”
“We can see the toll right in front of us every day,” said Darlene Chiles, DPP Head Peer Educator. “The amputations, the wheelchairs, the disability. My own mother has been repeatedly hospitalized with diabetes. This is why we have to make sure our neighborhood gets the real prevention it needs.”
What sets Health People apart is its unique “community in-reach” approach. Pioneered by the organization some 20 years ago to educate South Bronx residents suffering with HIV-AIDS, community in-reach involves training people or “peers” with or at risk of developing disease and then sending them into the places where their “peers” live – housing complexes, the street, and shelters – to educate them about prevention and treatment options.
With the CDC’s Diabetes Prevention Program, Health People created a six-week program, evidently the first in the country, to train public housing residents whose lives have been touched by diabetes to become coaches. They then implement the program in their housing complexes for their fellow residents. Prior to implementing the DPP, Health People assessed more than 1,000 public housing residents and found 30 percent already had diabetes and 31 percent were pre-diabetic.
A resident of St. Mary’s Park Housing who trained to become a Lifestyle Coach, Delores Graham, went door-to door to tell residents about the course and enroll those with pre-diabetes in the program.
“We knew we could make the difference,” Graham said. “Both my parents and my brother died of diabetes so I’m going to do anything and everything I can to help the community fight against this epidemic.”
Loretta Fleming, who has diabetes, herself, was especially proud to become a Lifestyle Coach and be the co-teacher for the first course, which has now finished the first intensive phase and is starting its monthly follow-up meetings.
“I never taught before, but I knew I could do this,” said Fleming. “I love helping people. I don’t know why you always hear that people in poor neighborhoods can’t lose weight because the people in our class sure have.”
Health People’s second DPP class has just launched for residents of Betances Housing, and it is planning a third class at Millbrook Housing, another South Bronx housing complex this fall.
Health People’s classes currently are supported by a grant from New York State Health Foundation but, like other health advocates, Health People hopes that health insurance plans will finally start paying for this proven prevention strategy.
“I only hope there will be DPP classes for all the people in the Bronx with pre-diabetes who want to attend,“ said Norwood of Health People. “It would entirely change the health of this borough. Especially by training local Lifestyle Coaches with real determination and personal commitment, you would not keep seeing the horrible statistics that make Bronx the sickest borough. The evidence is stronger every day that preventing diabetes also helps prevent heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and several kinds of cancer. To have a tool as good as the DPP and not use it where it’s needed is too foolish for words.”
Health People, founded by Norwood, is a major community health education and support organization in South Bronx, the nation’s poorest urban Congressional District. Health People has implemented groundbreaking peer education, prevention and health education programs which received international recognition in 2005 when Norwood was one of 1,000 women from around the world chosen for a special Nobel Peace Prize nomination honoring women’s local work.
About the National Diabetes Prevention Program
The National Diabetes Prevention Program teaches participants strategies for incorporating physical activity into daily life and eating healthy. Lifestyle coaches work with participants to identify emotions and situations that can sabotage their success, and the group process encourages participants to share strategies for dealing with challenging situations.
It is based on the Diabetes Prevention Program research study led by the National Institutes of Health and supported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lifestyle program in this study showed that making modest behavior changes, such as improving food choices and increasing physical activity to at least 150 minutes per week, helped participants lose 5% to 7% of their body weight. These lifestyle changes reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58% in people at high risk for diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.
About Health People
Health People is a groundbreaking peer education, prevention and support organization in the South Bronx whose mission is to train and empower residents of communities overwhelmed by chronic disease and AIDS to become leaders and educators in effectively preventing ill health, hospitalization and unnecessary death.