Prince William County residents learn about living healthy with diabetes

Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in Virginia. In Prince William County, an estimated 50,000 people are living with the incurable and expensive disease.

Diabetes can be hard to manage for the afflicted and their families, but Virginia Cooperative Extension created a class to help diabetes patients in Prince William County lead healthier, easier lives.

Thirty-four people, including those living with diabetes and a few supportive family members, enrolled in the “Living Well with Diabetes” class in recent years. Throughout four sessions and a follow-up session, the enrollees learned about helpful lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, medication compliance, and stress management.

“It was enjoyable while still learning about taking care of yourself without being judged,” said one attendee.

As a result of the class, another attendee saw a drop in their A1C level, which measures a person’s average levels of blood sugar over the course of three months.

Even small decreases in A1C level may mean fewer physician visits in the years following and a savings of at least $685 per year in health care costs. In fact, diabetes leads to 11,700 hospitalizations each year in Virginia alone, at a cost of nearly $173 million.

In Prince William County, the Living Well with Diabetes class has measured their success through surveys and patient’s A1C levels, which was tested at the beginning of the class and at the follow up session. Of the 18 people who returned for the follow up session, eleven diabetes patients saw a decrease in A1C level.

Virginia Cooperative Extension also sent out a survey to attendees to evaluate the class. Out of the 24 people who responded to the survey, 22 said that the behavior change model taught in the class helped them understand how to make better health choices by approaching decisions differently. According to respondents, the most helpful information was from the sessions on grocery shopping and reading food labels.

“It’s rewarding to see the changes our program’s students make to better their lives while fighting this really tough disease,” said Extension Agent Nancy Stegon.