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November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

Image of Margo Kerrigan Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H, Area Director

Indian Health Service California Area Office




November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and I would like to take this time to commend all the health care staff that works throughout the California area to partner with their patients in management of this chronic condition.  The Indian Health Service (IHS) and Tribal/Urban clinics have been doing outstanding work in the field of diabetes treatment and prevention, especially in California.  Diabetes is a difficult condition to control, but with strong relationships between the healthcare professionals and the people living with this disease, it can be done successfully.  In addition to the clinics working with patients to minimize complications related to diabetes, there are several that work diligently on actually preventing diabetes. 

Did you know that diabetes can be prevented?  There is a fine balance in our bodies that has to be maintained; when that balance is disrupted we can develop many different chronic diseases, diabetes being most common.  American Indians/Alaska Natives are at a higher risk than most ethnic groups in the US to develop diabetes, but it can also be prevented or at least delayed for many years.  The Diabetes Prevention (DP) demonstration project was funded by the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) grant in 2004.  These programs used a 16-week Lifestyle Intervention course curriculum with AI/AN patients that were diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes.  Pre-Diabetes is a diagnosis that has the following criteria: (1) No previous diagnosis of diabetes (2) having an impaired fasting glucose (IFG) a fasting blood glucose level of 100-125 mg/dL and, (3) an oral glucose tolerance test [OGTT] result <200 mg/dL.  Lifestyle coaches were available to support the patients’ efforts to change their lifestyle habits to lose at least 7% of their body weight and increase their physical exercise to 150 minutes per week at a minimum.  The 16-week curriculum covered diet, exercise, and behavior modification.  Adaptation for local cultural and situation was allowed provided that the same basic information was presented and adaptation was documented.  Many programs drew upon their local culture to translate educational concepts and curriculum into tribal languages and incorporated, for instance, talking circles, indigenous foods, or drumming into intervention sessions. (Jiang, et al., 2013 Volume 36)

This was only the beginning of a new approach to preventing diabetes.  Strength and support comes from within each Native community.  It has to start with the individual person, then the family and the community.  There are exciting efforts growing in California within the Native communities.  Tribal members are learning how to analyze diabetes data, read and compose diabetes research articles, and lead others in their communities toward healing diabetes.  Preventing this chronic disease is the best way to defeat it. 

I hope this month not only brings awareness to you about managing diabetes if you already have it, but also preventing it in your children and grandchildren.  Please visit our IHS/Division of Diabetes website at: for up to date information and resources, including free educational materials and Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for your community.  Let’s work together to make diabetes a rare occurrence in our Native population once again.  WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER!  Stay well.