Diabetes Forecast

Helping African American Women With Type 2

The ADA's Earnestine Walker helps African American women focus on physical and emotional health.

A group of professional women in suits has gathered to talk about the epidemic-level threat of diabetes in their communities. But the women at a recent American Diabetes Association training meeting aren't stuck at a conference table. They're up and dancing The Wobble.

It's refreshing for the women—and they're banking that it'll be refreshing for other women, too, as the ADA launches its Choose to Live: Sisters Strong Together program. It is an offshoot of the Association's Live Empowered program for African American women with type 2 diabetes and those who are at risk. More than a support group, Choose to Live is designed to reach women in all aspects of their lives: as workers, wives, mothers, caregivers, and heads of households.

Joann Mraz, associate director of the ADA's Cleveland office, says the program offers women support and camaraderie. "We need to have a moment to let our hair down," she says. "That's one of the core pieces of what we have to do."

Choose to Live focuses specifically on women, because they so rarely focus on their own health, says Earnestine Walker, director of the ADA's African American initiatives. Women tend to be concerned about their family and others whom they care for, Walker adds. The program tackles that tendency head on by offering easy, small steps women can take to care for their own health. In turn, that strengthens their ability to care for others.

Choose to Live has been presented in a variety of settings: sorority meetings, beauty shops, places of worship, and correctional facilities. It opens up opportunities for women to discuss both their physical and emotional health. "The whole idea of inviting people to a workshop . . . is to get [them] more engaged," Walker says.

That engagement includes movement (from stretching together to doing The Wobble), brainstorming small steps toward healthier eating, and sharing journal entries about health, wellness, and balance. The program offers a "Stay Focused" food and exercise journal in which women can keep track of their health by identifying roadblocks and how to navigate around them.

The Choose to Live program also works for women who are managing other health issues besides diabetes. "I think this program is really, really special, because it meets women, particularly African American women, where they are," says Sharon Denise Allison-Ottey, MD, who led the discussion at the ADA's launch of Choose to Live. "That's a message that has to resonate."

To find out more about the Choose to Live program, visit diabetes.org/africanamericans.



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