TUPELO • A little more than a year ago, Niesha Hodges could see diabetes in her future.

The 28-year-old Nettleton woman was obese and her blood sugar was at the very top of the normal range. Her dad and brother both have Type II diabetes.

“I was heading that direction,” said Hodges, who teaches 2-year-olds at the North Mississippi Medical Center child care center.

Her wake up call came in the form of a diabetes prevention program that NMMC piloted with members of its health insurance plan. The program, overseen by Tupelo internist Dr. Vernon Rayford, focused on healthy eating and activity habits.

Hodges and 14 others focused on working in 30 minutes of physical activity a day and swapping high calorie, sugary foods for healthy options.

“The goal was not to lose weight,” Hodges said, although she dropped nearly 30 pounds over the course of a year. “It gave you the tools to sustain things for a lifetime.”

Her fasting blood sugar dropped from 94 to 76; less than 100 is normal.

“I have so much more energy,” Hodges said. “I can see it in how I run my classroom.”

Big problem

An estimated 84 million U.S. adults, including 600,000 to 750,000 Mississippians, have prediabetes. Roughly 30 percent will develop full blown Type II diabetes in the next 5 years if they don’t change their habits.

“There’s a significant opportunity for us in Mississippi to prevent diabetes,” Rayford said.

Prediabetes is defined as a fasting blood sugar of 100 to 125, an A1c of 5.7 to 6.4 or a glucose tolerance test between 150-199, Rayford said. Risk factors for developing diabetes include a family history of diabetes, a body mass index of 25.1 or higher, gestational diabetes during pregnancy, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Diabetes is costly to the individual, their family and the health care system, said Rayford, who is also board certified in obesity medicine. Managing diabetes requires frequent testing, medication, regular visits to monitor blood sugar levels and the impact on the heart, eyes, feet and the nervous system.

“Once you’re dealing with diabetes, it’s a lifelong disease,” Rayford said. “It’s not hard to make the case that prevention is good for the bottom line.”

Helping hand

Prediabetes is reversible and responds well to modest weight loss and improved food and physical activity habits, Rayford said.

“It’s more effective than medication,” Rayford said.

Later this fall, North Mississippi Medical Center will offer the diabetes prevention program to the public. The free program, supported by grant funding, uses the National Diabetes Prevention curriculum developed by the Centers for Disease Control.

“The science in the program is all sound,” Rayford said.

The 26-lesson program starts with weekly group meetings initially and then meets less frequently as the year goes on. Participants privately weigh in and then take part in an interactive discussion with trained lifestyle coaches. The group dynamic, where people can share problems and solutions, is very helpful.

“People are very enthusiastic,” Rayford said. “Who doesn’t want less diabetes?”

The schedule for the diabetes prevention program will be set based on the schedules of those who express interest. For more information, call (662) 377-5787.

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