Diabetes prevention program to launch on peninsula

A state-led health program to prevent diabetes in rural areas will launch a pilot program on the Kenai Peninsula this summer.

The PrevenT2 program targets people who have been diagnosed with prediabetes or who are at risk of developing diabetes based on their body weight, but who may not be able to reach prevention resources.

“Access to prevention programs in smaller rural communities is always a challenge for public health,” Chung Nim Ha Program Manager for the State of Alaska Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, said. “We thought that a telephone-based prevention program might work.”

The free, year-long program will provide mentorship and peer counseling via phone, based on a CDC-developed curriculum on how to make healthy lifestyle changes for those who are prediabetic.

Prediabetes, or when a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, increases the risk of developing long-term health complications, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to the Alaska Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 2016 survey, 11.1 percent of Alaskans, and 11.9 percent of Kenai Peninsula Borough residents, reported having prediabetes.

Because many people don’t know they have prediabetes, self-reported surveys like the BRFSS likely under count the number of people suffering from the condition, Ha said.

The CDC estimates that nine in 10 of the 84.1 million people that have prediabetes nationwide don’t know that they have it.

People who receive a diagnoses of prediabetes will typically develop type 2 diabetes within four years, Leslie Shallcross, University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension faculty member, said.

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes, however, decreases significantly with changes in lifestyle. In many cases, losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight can reverse the high blood sugars that can lead to diabetes, she said.

Diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in Alaska, with 18.6 percent of deaths due to the condition, according to the Alaska Vital Statistic 2016 Annual Report. About 7.5 percent of Alaskans suffer from type 2 diabetes, according to the 2016 BRFSS survey — with 7.6 percent of peninsula residents diagnosed with the disease.

Shallcross, who has offered a diabetes prevention program through the extension program for several years, is spearheading the outreach and training for the peer-based program. Shallcross is hoping to recruit lifestyle coaches from the Kenai community, who will connect weekly via phone with participants for the first six months and once or twice a month the following six months.

Organizers are hoping to launch the program in late May or June, with the goal of training five lifestyle coaches and enrolling 50 participants by the end of the year. Funding for the program comes from CDC, as part of a national program to expand diabetes prevention efforts to underserved areas.

For more information contact Leslie Shallcross at 907-474-2426 or at lashallcross@alaska.edu.

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