Atlanta Event Promotes Diabetes Prevention
Victory Over Diabetes offers information tailored for African Americans
When Yvonne Young, RN, worked as a nurse at a diabetes clinic in Atlanta five years ago, she was struck by how many patients in their 30s and 40s came in for dialysis treatments and amputations. They often didn't know how to prevent these complications, she says, because they lacked access to proper health care. Young knew plenty about the disease that had robbed her patients of their feet and their kidney health; she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1976.
Despite her medical expertise and a family history of diabetes, Young was not moved by the diagnosis to make changes to her lifestyle. She still smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day, and would eat medium pizzas or family-sized bags of cookies by herself in one sitting. "In my mind, I didn't have diabetes," she says. "Denial is a comfort zone, but it's also a deadly zone." Young, 57, looks back on those days and finds it hard to pinpoint why she didn't take better care of herself.
About 15 years later, though, Young says she woke up one day and thought, "Yvonne, what are you doing to yourself?" She started exercising and cutting down her meal portions. She ate more fruits and vegetables, and gradually worked her way up to walking 3 miles a day. Young also quit smoking. The changes that took her from a size 20 to a 12 are the same ones she encourages in others at the American Diabetes Association's Victory Over Diabetes, an Atlanta-area education and prevention conference that she helped develop more than a decade ago. This August, the all-day event included health screenings and workshops on diabetes management.
Victory Over Diabetes is tailored to African Americans, who make up more than 60 percent of the city of Atlanta's population and are about twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. The conference drew its name from a smaller local effort spearheaded by Young. In 1998, she joined a friend and fellow health care professional, Vera Green, RD, LD, in hosting a support group at Young's church every week. In the meetings, Young and her friend shared healthy recipes and tips for managing obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, always trying to keep a positive outlook. Green came up with the name Victory Over Diabetes to describe their efforts. And, says Young, "I felt victorious over my disease because I was able to turn my life around."
To learn more about ADA's programs for African Americans with or at risk for diabetes, visit diabetes.org/africanamericans.
Carole Helms, ADA's program director in Atlanta, teamed up with Young and others to bring diabetes information to the at-risk African American community on a larger scale. They adopted the Victory Over Diabetes name and hosted the first Atlanta conference in 1999. "It's a good opportunity to dispel myths, like 'people with diabetes can't have sugar,' " Helms says. "I think that diabetes still continues to be viewed as not important [and isn't] taken as seriously as it should be."
This year, Victory Over Diabetes offered foot, eye, and blood pressure screenings, free of charge. Workshop topics included managing diabetes, exercising, carb counting, and dealing with the emotional effects of diabetes, like depression. Attendees watched cooking demonstrations by Roniece Weaver and Fabiola Demps Gaines, the authors of a series of diabetes-friendly soul food cookbooks published by ADA. Angie Stone, an R&B singer, performed at Victory Over Diabetes, described her struggles with type 2, and encouraged people to take charge of their diabetes (more about Stone is on page 43).
Young also spoke at the event, where she led the workshop "Monitoring the Keys to Success." She talked about the importance of checking your blood glucose on a regular basis. "We need to change the way we view this disease," Young says. "We need to be consistent, which we're not. We need to be disciplined, which we're not." People often come up to her after Victory Over Diabetes, Young says, and tell her how much the workshops have helped them reduce their A1Cs, weight, and blood pressure. "You can't go to a doctor's office and get the kind of information you get from our workshops," she says.
Now retired from nursing, Young continues to work with her community to encourage healthy living and proper diabetes management. She has personal motivations for fighting to stop diabetes; both of her parents died from complications of type 2 diabetes. Her husband and her older sister also have type 2. In addition to her work with ADA, Young runs Partners for Preventive Health, an organization she founded in 1998 that works to raise awareness of diabetes and to screen people for elevated blood glucose so they can seek treatment sooner rather than later. To date, the program has screened about 20,000 people, she says. Now that's a victory.