Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way a body regulates glucose, or blood sugar. Everyone needs glucose to feed the cells in their bodies, and glucose needs insulin to enter the cells. There are two different types of diabetes, though.
Type 1 Diabetes is when the body doesn't produce insulin at all. Most with Type 1 Diabetes are diagnosed as children. Type 2 Diabetes is when the body doesn't use the insulin it produces properly. It's been thought of as a condition that comes as we age. Sadly, in recent years, Type 2 Diabetes has become a disease of all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,600 American children are newly diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes each year.
In the United States, the lifetime risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes is now more than one in three. Augusta Health's 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) identified that 13.9% of the local population has been diagnosed with Diabetes, with a higher prevalence of 21.5% of adults in Waynesboro.
So how does a community work to prevent Type 2 Diabetes and all the health complications—such as heart disease, kidney damage and eye damage? You start with the children, and teach healthy eating habits at a young age. A simple strategy to help reduce a child's risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes and its associated problems is to make sure children eat a healthy diet.
"Any one of us who has tried to 'start eating healthier' as an adult can understand how difficult it is to break the habits of a lifetime," says Krystal Moyers, MEd, CHES, Manager of Community Outreach at Augusta Health. "The Journal of Nutrition Education evaluated the impact of school-based nutrition education and determined schools have a unique capability of reaching a large number of children and play a critical role, along with families, in shaping eating behaviors. But the behaviors and attitudes of parents are important, too, since they make most of the food choices in the home. To adopt healthy eating habits, children need to have consistent messages from both school and home. Any program to change the eating habits of children was going to also need to help the parents change their habits, too."
A community partnership of Augusta Health, Waynesboro Public Schools, the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Project GROWS, Murphy Deming School of Health Sciences and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank have developed Get Fresh, a pilot program in the five Kindergarten classes and their families at William Perry Elementary School for the 2018-19 school year. Based on the Virginia Cooperative Extension's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program, its purpose is to create long-term systematic change in the health of the community by preventing Type 2 Diabetes. The program provides biometric screenings, nutrition education, fresh produce tastings and family nutrition programming.
"Get Fresh will give the children the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices, along with the motivation and support to carry through with making a good choice. Nutrition education should be fun, though. We won't just tell the students about healthy foods, we'll include tastings and hands-on preparation. Families will be included," adds Moyers.
At William Perry Elementary School, Principal Tammy Hipes says the school community is excited about the collaborative partnership of the Get Fresh program and the impact it will have on students, families and staff. "I am hopeful that the impact will be three-fold: Parents and children will have time to interact together and have the resources to do so, families will be able to interact with school and community members in a fun atmosphere, and the educational piece—an opportunity for families and staff to learn about fresh alternatives and nutrition as they learn to cook something new!"
In the Kindergarten classrooms, lessons are designed to increase students' knowledge and attitude about fresh fruits and vegetables and are based on health, math and science standards and include hands-on activities. A take-home worksheet about the lesson will provide information to parents on how to select, store and prepare the highlighted fruit of vegetable. These classes will take a field trip to the Project GROWS farm to see how the vegetables are grown.
The entire school will take part in Project GROWS fresh food-tastings in October. The focus will be on "eating the rainbow" by providing vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. The tastings will be in the cafeteria during lunch hours.
To engage the whole family, Virginia Cooperative Extension's Families, Food and Fun program will take place after school on four Tuesdays in October. While students do a fun activity, adults will participate in separate discussion groups on topics such as meal planning, eating out and stretching the food budget dollar. At the end of each session, families will share a nutritious meal they prepare together, with food supplied by the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Project GROWS. Families will also receive groceries to take home to help continue healthy eating through the week.
There is a benefit to presenting both programs—Get Fresh and Families, Food and Fun—simultaneously. "The benefit of doing both programs is that we reach the entire family, not just the students," explains Morgan Martindell, FCS SNAP-Ed Extension Agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension-Augusta County. "Positive health behavior change needs to be reinforced in and out of the classroom, particularly in the home environment. Families, Food and Fun is just one way that we can accomplish this."
Outcomes to measure the effectiveness of the program include biometric data, the change in students' willingness to try healthy foods, increase in knowledge about the benefits of fruits and vegetables and the increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables among participating students and families.
"We hope to have positive, lasting impacts on the students and families who participate in the programs," says Martindell. "The goal is to encourage healthier eating habits by providing nutrition education, taste tests and hands-on cooking experiences. We want to empower families to make healthy choices that will improve their present and future well-being."
Follow our series about Community Outreach where we take a close look at the initiatives taking place to address nutrition and physical activity, diabetes, and mental health in Staunton, Augusta, and Waynesboro.