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CHOC, Community Partners Take A Stand Against Diabetes

Healthcare professionals across the country are growing increasingly alarmed about a potential epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. Just a few years ago, Type 2 diabetes was considered an adult disease. The rising incidence of childhood obesity is changing that.

Children and adolescents are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at increasingly younger ages. Ethnicity also plays a role, and individuals of Latino heritage are at particularly high risk.

One of the most troubling aspects of this trend is that Type 2 diabetes appears to attack younger patients more aggressively. Complications seem to set in more rapidly, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation.

Thanks to a community benefits grant from the Hoag Hospital Foundation, CHOC and the PADRE Foundation are taking a stand against diabetes in Costa Mesa. CHOC is bringing specialized diabetes treatment, education and support into the neighborhoods that may need this help the most.

A CHOC pediatric endocrinologist, registered nurse and diabetes educator are providing this specialized treatment at the CHOC Costa Mesa Clinic, where many local families already receive primary medical care. Additionally, the CHOC Costa Mesa Clinic is available for medical referrals from school district nurses and is a resource for other CHOC-provided programs.

With the funds from the Hoag Hospital Foundation, CHOC has also teamed up with the PADRE Foundation to develop a community-based, culturally sensitive program promoting healthy living for children and families living in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District area. PADRE, which stands for Pediatric Adolescent Diabetes Research and Education, is a non-profit organization providing education and support for children with diabetes and their families.

“Preventing Type 2 Diabetes In Your Family,” is a free, five-session family class that is being held at Families Costa Mesa and Share Our Selves, local centers within the community. Children and their families are referred into these classes by pediatricians and nurses at the CHOC Clinic in Costa Mesa. Some also have enrolled as a result of receiving educational materials at local school or community health fairs. The class, which is conducted in Spanish, is open to any family that is interested. Babysitting is provided, as necessary.

“We want these children to grow up healthier, and it really needs to be a family activity. It is difficult for a child to change eating habits or become more physically active without the whole family’s support,” says Ilda Oropeza, who coordinates community health education and outreach at PADRE. She says many families are unaware of lifestyle risks associated with Type 2 diabetes. The nutritional component of the class emphasizes healthy food choices. Children and their parents learn about proteins, carbohydrates and “free” foods so they can plan balanced meals. They also hear the facts about fast food.

Oropeza says many parents who believe juice is a healthy beverage are surprised to learn that it is just another high-sugar drink. At each class session, healthy snacks and beverages are brought in for taste-testing. This gives children and their parents ideas for healthier choices to look for at the supermarket.

“We discuss media campaigns that target kids in order to sell products. The cover of a package may be misleading, and these families usually do not know how to read a nutrition label on the back or what a portion size should be,” Oropeza says. “They do by the end of our class. They understand how to evaluate calories, carbohydrates, fats and serving sizes.”

The interactive format focuses on fun, and there are frequent breaks for creative physical activities. Recognizing that many families may not have access to a gym or the park, the emphasis is on exercise that can be done at home. And everybody that is in the class is expected to participate.

“We divide into two teams and throw sponges across the room to play ‘Clean Your Room.’ Another favorite is “Three-Man Tag,’” Oropeza says. “The children can’t wait for the next physical activity break because they have so much fun.”

Once parents start eliminating sugary drinks, everyone in the family begins losing weight. Over one five-week class, 21 children and family members lost a total of 461/2 pounds. At a recent class reunion, Oropeza and CHOC certified diabetes educator Patricia Hawk, M.S., who teaches the class, were delighted to see that weight loss had been maintained or continued.

It’s an important first step in the fight against an awful, life-limiting epidemic. “Our results have been highly significant in three areas: knowledge, behavior and weight loss,” Hawk says. “I hope we are changing our part of the world. We’ve got to.”

For more information about “Preventing Type 2 Diabetes In Your Family,” please call the PADRE Foundation at (714) 532-8330.


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