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Gardening against diabetes

Aug. 12, 2010

By Rebecca Kline, Slow Food USA member and part of the Fair Haven Community Health Center's Diabetes Prevention Program




The Diabetes Prevention Program is a family-based initiative. Participants often bring their children to the work (play) alongside them in the garden!

I pause my assault on the weeds to watch Mercedes who, in quiet opposition, folds her weeds into a baggie laced to her hip. She explains that in a tea, these leaves suppress nausea. Mercedes’ knowledge of the medicinal uses of plants is vast, even on soil 3,000 miles from her native Mexico. Ironically, her diet, consisting of affordable bodega-bought goods: $1/1 can soup or $2/50 corn tortillas, etc., has devastated her health.

Later that morning, as we take a well-deserved water break, Lucy tells me why she is participating in the Diabetes Prevention Program’s Lifestyle Intervention. Tears plow through the sweat and dirt that cover her face, almost in preparation for the story. When diabetes claimed all of her mother’s ten toes, Lucy’s interest in living diminished. She shut herself up, drew the curtains, and decided to be sad. It was easy for her to gain weight. Before long, Lucy’s health lined up perfectly with that of her mother’s.

If they do nothing to interrupt its development, Mercedes and Lucy will both have diabetes within ten years. They are two of an approximately 57 million people (or one in four above 20 years old) in the United States whose elevated blood glucose levels constitute a significant risk for developing the disease (US Department of Health and Human Services).

Mercedes and Lucy are also two of 155 Hispanic women who have participated in a 12-week intensive Diabetes Prevention Program Lifestyle Intervention (LI) run by the Fair Haven Community Health Center. This program was initially supported by the Connecticut Health Foundation and is now part of a larger research evaluation in partnership with Yale Center for Clinical Investigation and funded by the Donaghue Foundation. It is modeled after the National Institute for Health (NIH) groundbreaking clinical research study that proved that “millions of high-risk people can delay or avoid developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight through regular physical activity and a diet low in fat and calories.” According to the study, individuals with pre-diabetes can reduce their risk of going on to develop diabetes by 58% with a modest 5-7% weight loss. The clinicians at the Fair Haven Community Health Center modified the NIH’s lifestyle intervention program to meet the needs of their predominantly Hispanic population in New Haven, Connecticut, where they discovered that an astonishing 40% of Latina women have pre-diabetes. back
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