PRESTONSBURG — A local health group is sounding the alarm regarding skyrocketing rates of diabetes in the region.
Members of the Tri-County Diabetes Partnership unanimously approved a declaration Friday, stating that the incidence of diabetes in the Big Sandy region is a “crisis of epidemic proportions.”
Members of the group said the dire language is appropriate, given the circumstances.
“If the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] saw a similar increase in any other illness, they would probably declare a national emergency,” said J.D. Miller, vice president of medical affairs for Appalachian Regional Healthcare, who chaired Friday’s meeting at the administrative offices of Big Sandy Health Care.
Miller said the incidence of diabetes in Floyd, Johnson and Magoffin counties, which the TCDP serves, began skyrocketing around 1995. Currently, the prevalence of diabetes is 14 percent in Johnson and Magoffin counties and 10 percent in Floyd County, while the statewide average is between 7.8 to 8.8 percent.
But while the incidence of diabetes is significantly higher in the region, members of TCDP agreed the problem has not received the public attention it deserves.
“I think this is a significant step this group is taking, and hopefully this will draw more attention to this issue,” Miller said.
Deirdra Robinson, a social work instructor with Morehead State University who serves as project coordinator for TCDP, agreed that there is a need to heighten public attention to the problem of widespread diabetes.
“The reason we chose to do this today is to put our communities on notice, because awareness is an issue,” Robinson said.
Floyd County Health Department Director Thursa Sloan said that her agency’s free health fair for the uninsured last week revealed that many people are not aware that they have diabetes or are on the verge of it. She said 12 percent of those who were given an A1C test, which provides an average of blood glucose control over the previous three months, were found to have Type 2 diabetes.
TCDP is an offshoot of the Friedell Committee for Health System Transformation. It includes health professionals and community representatives who gather on a quarterly basis to share information and swap strategies for dealing with the disease.
Next up for TCDP is the development of a strategic plan to address the problem. Robinson said such a plan will likely include recommending specific activities to reduce the incidence of diabetes, educate the public about community and personal responsibility for the disease, and increased screening to identify people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic without knowing it.
Also during Friday’s meeting, the group agreed to seek grant funding to provide A1C tests to every adult in the region over the age of 40.
In the past year, the group also spearheaded an effort to implement the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program for a group of adults over the age of 55. Robinson said that effort was notable for two reasons: It was the first time the program had been used at a non-YMCA site, and everyone who participated in the program saw significant weight loss and improved A1C scores.
Robinson remains optimistic that sustained attention to the problem can achieve a positive result, region-wide.
“We have the resources in this community to fix this problem,” Robinson said.