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College partners go all out for Diabetes Awareness Month

 
(ATHENS, Ohio—Nov. 10, 2014) With Diabetes Awareness Month upon us, the Diabetes Institute at Ohio University, the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the College of Health Sciences and Professions are making the most of November to spread the word about one of this country’s – and this region’s – major health problems.

One in 11 people in the United States has diabetes – that’s more than 29 million. One in four people with the disease don’t know they have it. One in three adults is “pre-diabetic,” meaning they have higher-than-normal blood glucose levels and are at risk of developing diabetes soon if they don’t change their diet and lifestyle. And the problem is even worse in rural Appalachian areas (like southeastern Ohio) than in the rest of the country.

Those are among the many facts that the Diabetes Institute has distributed to area high schools, which are sharing them with their students throughout the month. And that’s just one of many such projects the institute is pursuing with the help of the osteopathic medical school and the health sciences college.

Melissa Standley, the Diabetes Institute’s director of operations, explained that the full range of programs for Diabetes Awareness Month corresponds to the four areas in which the organization works. “We have a clinical, a research, an education, and a community outreach focus,” Standley said. “So we actually have four arms to the institute, and we have events planned around each facet.”

In the area of education, for example, Standley cited a symposium held Nov. 6, in which Frank Schwartz, M.D., J.O. Watson Endowed Diabetes and Research Chair and professor of endocrinology at the Heritage College, spoke on “Using Technology to Help Control Diabetes.” That talk, Standley said, was aimed primarily at members of the public rather than experts.

A research seminar Nov. 14, by contrast, is more for health care professionals, as a speaker from the University of Toledo will speak on the diabetes-related topic of “Metabolic Syndrome: Past, Present and Future.”

Along with education goes community outreach. “We’re giving supplies to all of the high schools in Athens County, and also in Hocking County, to decorate a public area of the school to promote diabetes awareness,” Standley said. “It’s to bring awareness to the disease itself. We want people to know how widespread it is.”

This is particularly urgent in rural areas like Appalachian Ohio, she noted, where Type 2 diabetes rates are significantly higher than national averages. (Diabetes comes in more than one variety, of which Type 1 and Type 2 are probably the most widely known.)

One new feature of Diabetes Awareness Month this year is the participation of a newly formed Ohio University student group called DOSES (Diabetes Outreach, Support and Education for Students). The group, which will be staffing information tables at the first floor of Baker Center on multiple days during the month, was founded mainly as a support group for students with diabetes, but is widening its focus to include more educational efforts, as well as a long-range campaign to make the university more “diabetic friendly.”

Charles B. Riley, a College of Health Sciences and Professions student from Glouster, Ohio, is president of DOSES. Riley said the group originally came together in April 2013 “just to support each other and have each other’s backs.” He explained that students with diabetes often find that their professors and fellow students have some odd reactions to the disease. Many diabetic students wear an insulin pump that puts ongoing, measured doses of insulin into their bloodstream throughout the day. Riley said this device tends to prompt questions like, “Is your pump a Nokia phone? Is it a bomb?”

Heritage College Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Elizabeth Beverly, Ph.D., is a faculty member who’s taken interest in the DOSES group. She said students with diabetes have sometimes faced obstacles, such as finding it hard to convince professors they have a legitimate medical need for a snack or drink of water during class, to avoid blood-glucose fluctuations. DOSES aims to help overcome this type of problem with outreach and education, Beverly said, noting that “you don’t have to be diabetic to be part of the group.”

One of the group’s biggest goals, Riley said, is “to make Ohio University the most diabetic-friendly campus in the nation.”

In the shorter term, however – including the month of November – DOSES and others will be working to get the word out about diabetes and its frequency, effects and treatments. One event Standley said she’s hoping will get a big response is on Nov. 14, World Diabetes Day, when the public is invited to dress in blue and come to Ohio University’s Walter Field House at 2:30 p.m. to form a human circle to raise diabetes awareness. A photo of the circle will be sent to the American Diabetes Association.

Standley expressed appreciation for the partnerships the Diabetes Institute enjoys with the Heritage College and the College of Health Sciences and Professions, in getting the word out and helping fight diabetes.

“The Heritage College has been very supportive of us, as has HSP,” she said, adding that a transformational gift of $105 million to the Heritage College from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations in 2011, partly aimed at addressing the nation’s high levels of diabetes, “has really been a godsend.”

Though only two years old, the Diabetes Institute at Ohio University is rapidly establishing itself as a significant research and care center, and was recognized recently with the American Osteopathic Foundation’s Excellence in Diabetes Care award.

A more complete listing of Diabetes Awareness Month events can be found on the Diabetes Institute’s website, at http://www.ohio.edu/diabetes/November-Events.cfm.

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