Employees learn about diabetes

Just in time for many students and faculty at Weber State University to be feeling the after-effects of a Halloween sugar binge, the Employee Wellness Center hosted a Matter of the Month event discussing diabetes Friday in the Stromberg Complex.

“November is National Diabetes Awareness Month,” said Rachel Smith, employee wellness coordinator. “I’ve met with quite a few employees on campus that have diabetes, or they have a family member that has it, or they have just been diagnosed. The goal of our program is to keep (them) healthy and help them improve their lives.”

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugar, because a diabetic’s body cannot move the excess sugar into fat, liver and muscle cells for energy use and storage. The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin to control blood sugar, but a diabetic’s pancreas might not make enough insulin, his or her cells might not respond normally to the insulin, or both.

Diabetes is incurable, and, if not controlled, it can lead to severe complications, including blindness, nerve damage, kidney damage, infections leading to amputation, heart attack, stroke and other problems. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in Utah and the United States, but many diabetics can lead normal, healthy lives by controlling their blood sugar with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

“My mom has Type 2 diabetes; my grandma had it, and my grandpa has it,” said Britney Schultz, who organized the event while interning with Smith. She provided informational handouts about the disease and a glycemic index chart with several common foods. Schultz also prepared low-glycemic-index refreshments for the event, including fresh apples, grapes, hummus and a dried-fruit spread prepared with agave nectar.

“Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar,” Smith said, “and it still affects your blood sugar, but not as much as regular white sugar.”

According to the label, tw0-thirds of a cup of nectar can be exchanged for a cup of sugar.

“I bake with it a lot in things like cornbread and cookies,” Smith said, “and I’ve found that I can use less, and it doesn’t compromise the flavor or the texture.”

Additionally, teaspoon for teaspoon, the agave has half the glycemic index of sugar.

Another challenge for diabetics is their ability to control their blood sugar while maintaining the energy to live an active lifestyle. Shaun Jackson, a faculty member in the Stewart Library and Type 1 diabetic for more than 25 years, stopped by the open house to get some tips on training for two upcoming marathons.

“I wear a pump,” Jackson said, referring to the insulin pump she wears constantly to deliver the added insulin her body needs, “and when I’ve run in the past I have to eat every 2-3 miles, and I’m sick and uncomfortable by the end. I just came here to get some tips about other endurance runners with diabetes.”

The key to healthy living for a diabetic is disease management, and WSU’s employee health insurance, Public Employee Health Programs, provides a free diabetes management program. The counselors are registered nurses and diabetes specialists who provide information and assistance without a co-pay.

“Larry Miller is an example of someone who didn’t manage his diabetes well,” Smith said, “not because he didn’t have the money, but probably because he was a busy guy. Many people may have a hard time finding the time to manage their disease. With our diabetes management program, it may cost them a little bit of time, but at least it’s not an added financial cost.”

The Employee Wellness Center will also be hosting a diabetes awareness Lunch and Learn presentation by Tim Drake on Wednesday, Nov. 9 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, students can contact Smith at 801-626-6480.