From 2007 to 2017, South Dakota saw a 66% increase in diabetes, the highest increase in the country according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rise in the prevalence of diabetes is an alarming health problem that was on Thomas Gulledge’s radar over the past year.
It prompted the Rec Center’s fitness director to develop a program designed to reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. Gulledge said it went hand in hand.
“Diabetes has gotten out of control lately, and it’s an epidemic that isn’t getting the attention I think it deserves,” said Gulledge. “We were looking for ways we could help people with chronic illnesses in our community. Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the diseases we see more than anything.”
Although there are two types of diabetes, both of them affect the way the body processes and produces blood sugar or glucose, which is needed for energy supply. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas makes little to no insulin, while type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body does not use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes is the only form of diabetes that is preventable.
According to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics report, one in ten Americans has either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, which equates to approximately 34 million diabetics in the country. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type as it makes up around 90% of the 34 million diabetics. If left untreated, diabetes can cause serious health problems, ranging from extreme fatigue to dehydration. While diabetes is more common in adults, children can develop the disease as well.
Gulledge’s first major response to the increased prevalence of diabetes in adults and children was to develop his high blood pressure prevention program, which focuses on cardiovascular fitness and careful monitoring of blood pressure. After Gulledge applied for grant funding from the State Department of Health to help launch the program, it caught the attention of the South Dakota Department of Health and they awarded the facility a $ 20,000 grant to run the program in the Mitchell area.
The program includes providing blood pressure cuffs for participants to track results, as well as heart health education classes and fitness intervention training. There are currently 50 participants in the year-long program, and Gulledge said the results have already been proven.
“We just had 11 of the 50 participants who completed the program in full. And all 11 have shown significant drops in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, making the program work, ”said Gulledge. Hypertension programs are usually only offered in clinical settings such as hospitals. “You go home and track your results. We can then give these to the attendees’ doctor if they wish, and we provide free, bespoke personal training as part of the intervention piece.”
The results of the program can be seen in the story of Randy Oldenkamp. Oldenkamp has type 2 diabetes and immediately entered the high blood pressure prevention program. After a few months in the program, Oldenkamp’s A1C dropped from 7.2% to 6.6%.
A1C tests are used to monitor blood levels in people with type 2 diabetes. An A1C value between 5.7% and 6.4% is classified as prediabetes, and anything above is considered full of diabetes.
“It’s amazing to see how much my A1C has dropped after getting into this program,” said Oldenkamp as he worked up a sweat on the elliptical. “I’ve already lost 30 pounds.”
The results that Oldenkamp has achieved so far are exactly what the program was designed for: helping participants see a weight loss of at least 7% in one year. To achieve this weight loss goal, the program seeks to get each participant to complete 150 minutes of activity per week, which Gulledge calls a “realistic goal.”
“Hypertension and type 2 diabetes can be controlled through lifestyle modifications,” Gulledge said, referring to a CDC study that recently found that lifestyle changes increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 %. “Activity and a more nutritious diet are the most important aspects of diabetes prevention.”
With the high blood pressure prevention program in full swing and with success, another diabetes program with the Department of Health caught Gulledge’s attention. However, the program focused heavily on the educational side of diabetes prevention. Perhaps the biggest draw for Gulledge was the CDC’s involvement in creating the curriculum for the program.
The Rec Center is now the first fitness facility in the state to offer the CDC program free of charge to attendees. Gulledge was recently certified as a Lifestyle Modification Coach to teach the program.
“The program is a curriculum written by the CDC that is wonderful because it features the best of content from the nation’s leading experts on chronic diseases like diabetes,” said Gulledge. “This program is a necessity for the community as we see an increase in type 2 diabetes and obesity.”
Gulledge emphasized that the diabetes prevention program was “not bootcamp training”. Rather, he said it was about diabetes education.
An important facet of the program is tracking food intake and time spent on activities. Two elements Gulledge said are “the most effective and easiest way to make big lifestyle changes” to reduce the risk of diabetes. Throughout the year, the group of participants meets every Monday evening of the week for Gulledge’s diabetes prevention education session.
“This is education, and we’re talking about how to support a group of people with similar problems that you can rely on for information about diabetes,” said Gulledge. “It’s really cool to see the social interaction of this program and we’ve seen the participants interact and talk to each other, what they eat and what activities they find most effective.”
There are several requirements to qualify to join the program, including a blood and diabetes risk test that shows you have prediabetes. Each participant reports these results to the confidential Rec Center in order to qualify for the diabetes prevention program.
“There are statistics showing that there are many undiagnosed prediabetics and that number is growing every year,” Gulledge said. “I have some friends in the category that I have encouraged to join the program.”
For Rec Center Director Kevin DeVries, state and local diabetes prevention efforts come at a critical time as the COVID-19 virus takes its course.
The CDC found that people with diabetes are at greater risk of suffering the serious effects of COVID-19, which creates a greater incentive to adopt healthy lifestyles to prevent diabetes.
“Now that we know that people with health problems like diabetes are at higher risk for more severe cases of COVID-19, the timing for these programs couldn’t have been better,” DeVries said. “As a municipal facility, it is our job to ensure all aspects of health and wellbeing. And that is exactly what these programs do. “
With the Department of Health extending the Rec Center’s diabetes prevention program for another year, Gulledge is a testament to the common goals fitness and health professionals share in preventing diabetes and other diseases.
“Efforts to keep this epidemic from getting worse will only get better from now on,” said Gulledge. “I am proud to be part of it.”