Many programs dedicated to controlling and reversing diabetes in the 1 out of 3 Americans who have it also know that making lifestyle changes is critical.
Studies show people can stop problems from diabetes before they start if they exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet with plenty of produce, and avoid smoking and heavy drinking. Many people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it, so education around the topic is essential.
Providing this kind of diabetes education and motivating people to make lifestyle changes are exactly where community health workers (CHWs) excel. Health initiatives targeted at reducing incidence of diabetes are creating more CHW jobs, because it’s proven that CHWs help patients manage diabetes.
That’s why many programs already know they should provide introductory training in diabetes education that covers what the disease is and how it affects people. But they stop short. Because so many factors feed into developing diabetes that it’s important to create a multi-dimensional training plan to have a truly effective CHW team.
Knowing which skills are necessary for diabetes interventions is the first step. Then, organizations can set up a training plan to best position CHWs for helping people to make changes.
The following three areas are a must for any diabetes education program:
1. Tobacco cessation
CHWs need skills in tobacco cessation—including Motivational Interviewing—to address many health problems caused by smoking and using tobacco. Tobacco cessation skills are also critical for diabetes prevention and control programs.
Smokers are more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers, and that risk goes up along with the number of cigarettes smoked. Smoking damages cells in the body by increasing inflammation and mixing chemicals in cigarettes with oxygen, called oxidative stress. Smoking can also lead to more belly fat, itself linked with diabetes.
Smokers who already have type 2 diabetes have more serious health problems. Nicotine can make insulin less effective. They’re also more likely to have heart and kidney disease, poor circulation in the legs and feet, and blindness.
2. Physical activity
Americans sit too much and exercise too little, so CHWs who know how to get people up and moving are helping prevent a host of health problems in addition to diabetes. According to studies, moving around shows immediate health benefits, including reducing anxiety, improving blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.
Physical activity fights diabetes on several fronts. It makes a body more sensitive to insulin and helps people lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. It also helps control blood sugar levels.
CHWs who are trained in physical activity and active living are in a better position to make recommendations to people, no matter what their barriers are (physical, geographical, financial, etc.). They can also help patients and clients set and stick to goals and maintain an activity program that works.
3. Healthy eating
Finding a healthy eating strategy is probably at the top of a diabetes prevention and control program, and it may be one of the toughest strategies for people to follow. Following a diabetes diet means eating a plant-heavy diet that’s rich in nutrients and low in fat and calories. People should add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to their plates. That helps with weight loss and also controlling blood glucose.
Many people with diabetes work with a dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan, but CHWs can work with them to make food choices that work for each person’s preference, location and culture.
Training in healthy eating can also be matched with training in physical activity to offer more comprehensive support to clients.
Suggested training curriculum
A comprehensive CHWtraining curriculum for a team of CHWs looking to control diabetes should start here:
- Diabetes and Prediabetes
- Supporting Tobacco Cessation
- Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
- Motivational Interviewing: Peer Support for Behavior Change
A useful expansion pack of diabetes education resources includes options for supporting clients on their journey:
- Providing Social Support
- Health Literacy: A Start
- Substance Use
During National Diabetes Month, you can add Diabetes and Prediabetes to any subscription on CHWTraining. If you’re interested in building a diabetes education program for your team with these or other courses, click the button below to learn how to add certified training to your program. Our team will be in touch ASAP to schedule a time to chat.