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Live well, Eat well, be Active with Diabetes (LEAD) might sound like a mantra for healthy living, but it’s actually the name of an Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service program that provides tools, resources and hope to individuals across the state who are managing the chronic condition.


Lauren Wren, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension family and consumer science educator in Choctaw and McCurtain counties, has taught L.E.A.D. five times in three years.


Each time, up to 10 participants have taken advantage of the program, which is provided free of charge.


One could argue it’s the cost that draws people. Or perhaps it’s the promise of food. Wren does a healthy diabetic food demonstration in three of the four weeks and favorite options for participants range from a tasty corn muffin to a popular veggie dip to a delicious chocolate cake.


But more than likely they’re mostly drawn to the information and resulting confidence that comes with gaining the skills and knowledge to manage their diabetes.


“A lot of my participants have been told what they can’t have, but we don’t talk about what they can’t have. We talk about what they can do and what they can have in moderation,” Wren said. “It’s a different approach. It’s more positive.”


In the counties where Wren is based, L.E.A.D. fills a critical information void. Doctors are swamped and it is difficult to find a dietician in such a rural part of the state.


“The older generation doesn’t know how to search online like some of us do. They don’t know what key words to put in and a lot of them don’t understand the difference between carbs and calories,” she said. “We’re providing a service they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, unless they went to Talihina or a couple towns over.”


As the program’s title suggests, each of L.E.A.D.’s four research-based modules focus on various aspects of living well, eating well and being active with diabetes.


Examples of topics covered include keys to diabetes management, general meal planning, the Plate method, benefits of activity, weight loss, carb counting, potential diabetic complications, making healthful food choices, strategies for modifying recipes, key resources and tips for increasing physical activity.


L.E.A.D. is taught in several counties across the state with more Extension educators getting trained in the curriculum each year.


In fact, Major County OSU Extension Director Dana Baldwin is hoping to attract eight to 12 participants when she debuts the program in March.


“This program will offer an opportunity to address and hopefully help decrease the severity of diabetes, and prevent more diagnoses in the future,” said Baldwin, who decided to provide the diabetes related programming after fielding multiple requests and reviewing a Health Needs Assessment completed for the local hospital identifying diabetes as one of the area’s top three health issues.


“It’s important especially in rural counties to offer these programming opportunities when healthcare and other services are limited,” she said.


Although the sample size was limited in 2017, according to program evaluations, 94 percent of participants felt L.E.A.D. was helpful, while 100 percent of respondents indicated the program was easy to understand, they felt better able to take care of their health and would recommend the program to others.


Following participation in L.E.A.D., 72 percent reported maintaining or losing weight, 61 percent reported their glucose was in better control, 29 percent reported their hemoglobin A1c and blood pressure were lower and 18 percent reported lower cholesterol.


Here’s why this snapshot of the program’s effectiveness is so critical: Diabetes is increasing at an epidemic rate in the United States and Oklahoma is far from immune.


According to American Diabetes Association data, approximately 14.3 percent of the Oklahoma’s adult population is managing the condition, which is above the national average.


It is estimated 19,000 people in Oklahoma are diagnosed with diabetes every year and another 100,000 residents are unaware they have the disease.


Gale Mills, OSU Extension FCS educator in Washington and Nowata counties, has led 46 individuals through L.E.A.D. in two years.


That means she knows well the impact the program can have on Oklahomans’ lives.


“While I was teaching the class, I received comments that folks had lost weight, their hemoglobin Alc had gone down, they were exercising more, taking less medication, enjoying eating more vegetables using the Plate method,” said Mills, who as a registered dietitian is so comfortable with the material she incorporates easy-to-make meals for participants to sample each week.


“I felt that in addition to the four-week class of one-hour lectures, I would add a meal for participants to taste healthy foods that were easy to make and would provide them with additional options to stay on this eating pattern,” she said. “I think this curriculum is great and I appreciate Dr. Janice Hermann and Lauren Amaya for taking the time to create it.”


Finally, Wren perfectly sums up L.E.A.D. and its effectiveness in the fight against diabetes.


“The information we provide actually helps participants,’” she said. “It’s a really good program to offer.”

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