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Diabetes Education with a Twist

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FORT YUMA, Calif. - A little bit of holiday cheer spread to the southeast
corner of California and the local health educators took full advantage of
the joyous occasion.

Hosting a St. Patrick's Day dance, the Quechan Special Diabetes Project
(QSDP) continued its mandate of educating tribal members by incorporating
knowledge of the disease with fun activities. While it might be a stretch
to associate the greenness of shamrocks and leprechauns with diabetes
prevention, workers at the Project believe otherwise.

Diabetes aide Deborah Tourtillott said her unit often, usually monthly,
ties in holiday celebrations to promote the lifestyle needed for avoiding
or treating diabetes. Unquestionably if this ethnic festival was the excuse
for the festivities, hidden beneath the toy coins decorating the tables was
the real pot of gold.

"We like to have these types of activities rather than [the kids] staying
at home and watching television," Tourtillott said regarding the subtle
messages of dancing, as exercise, as one method of preventing diabetes.

More overtly, food served at this free event promoted the Project's
health-conscious message. Complementing the low-fat sandwiches was raw
fruit and vegetables plus there was a cooler filled with a colorful array
of soda choices showing that a sugar-free diet doesn't have to come at the
expense of taste.

However, one of the harder obstacles QSDP has to overcome is getting its
clients to alter their diet before they enter into a higher-risk category,
or who have already developed the disease. Aaron Brown, who has been with
the Project for its five-year existence that has its roots in the 1997
federally-funded Special Diabetes Program for Indians, noted even with all
of the agriculture that surrounds the reservation, produce is expensive and
not always high on the list of foods consumed.

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"Trying to get them to change their diet has been difficult," said Brown,
the Project's diabetes tracker. "We'll work with them to get other items
that are cheaper and they don't have to change their whole diet." Like
other reservations nationwide, the Quechan tribe has diabetes rates much
higher than non-Native populations. Of the 3,200 enrolled in the tribe,
Brown said about 10 percent have the disease, a statistic double that of
whites and slightly more than African-Americans and Hispanics.

Annually, about 20 people find out they are diabetic in Fort Yuma and that
number has risen slowly. That isn't to suggest the Project's work is being
ignored but instead, defends Brown, is an indication that, once told, at
least residents can now take steps to minimize the disease's effects.

"We've worked with the hospitals in getting diabetic screening because we
knew there were more people in the community who had the disease but
weren't diagnosed," Brown said.

QSDP frequently offers other events to raise awareness and to prevent the
onset of the disease. Bi-weekly on the newly-constructed Quechan Walking
Trail Park, a one-mile circuit along the Yuma Main Canal dedicated to those
who have succumbed to diabetes, participants are encouraged to walk three
miles and there are about two dozen regular exercisers who meet this goal.

It's within this atmosphere that combines physical fitness and social
gatherings which QSDP believes is a key element for getting the tribe to
conquer diabetes, whether for its younger or older clients.

"They're walking and taking the challenge and we've given them the
opportunity and providing them with different activities," said
Tourtillott.