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Diabetes Prevention in the Era of COVID-19

Mayo Clinic News Network

It's estimated that 1 in 4 Kentuckians has undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes. Local prevention programs across the state are working to help residents control their blood sugar and decrease their risk for diabetes-related complications - especially amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

According to the CDC, people with diabetes may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Mary Beth Castle, health educator with the Johnson County Health Department, teaches a weekly CDC-recognized diabetes-prevention class.

She said the biggest issue her clients struggle with is increasing their physical activity.

"I have a lady that's on a cane; I've had individuals that have been on oxygen. So we talk about things that they can do," Castle said. "One of the things that I do recommend to them is if they are sitting at home watching TV, that every time a commercial comes on, I suggest to them to get up and walk around in the house."

Castle added while her class has stopped meeting in person as the state continues social distancing measures, she's checked in with her clients by phone. Residents interested in participating in a diabetes-prevention program near them can find a statewide map by county on the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services website.

In 2016, Kentucky had the fourth highest death rate due to diabetes in the nation. Castle said many people may not realize chronic stress can hinder the body's ability to control blood sugar, which can lead to pre-diabetes.

"I think that COVID-19 has really kind of brought to the forefront the issue of underlying or pre-existing illness that people have, and those people seem to be the most vulnerable," she said.

Pre-diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Castle said eating fruits and vegetables, and implementing stress-reduction and weight-loss techniques can help reduce risk.

"A lot of my participants have found that counting their fat grams has been a big help for them as well," she said. "Some count carbs, some count calories."

According to state data, nearly 290,000 Kentucky adults have been told they have pre-diabetes.