Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Too many pounds, not enough exercise

South Minneapolis consortium taking on Type-2 Diabetes

A group of Lutheran congregations in the south Minneapolis area have launched a major health initiative: the prevention of Type 2 diabetes among their members.
They’re taking on the project because their observations confirm what medical experts and the media have been telling them in recent years — that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in America. And overweight and obese persons are primary candidates for developing Type 2 diabetes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 40% of the nation’s adults ages 40 to 74 — or 41 million people — have a condition known as pre-diabetes, which is marked by blood sugar (glucose) levels that are higher than normal but not yet diabetic.
Many people with pre-diabetes go on to develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years.
Left untreated, diabetes can lead to devastating consequences that include heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations, kidney failure and even death.
But it’s now known that if the pre-diabetic condition is identified, people can prevent or control the onset of diabetes by undertaking lifestyle changes that focus on revamping their diet and exercise habits and losing weight.
That’s because, unlike Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas in the bodies of these people is actually producing in-sulin, a hormone which enables the glucose in the blood, created by food that is eaten and digested, to enter cells of tissues throughout the body and be used as energy.
What happens in Type 2 diabetes is that the body cells become resistant to insulin, and the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance.
The greatest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes is excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle. Another factor is a syndrome in which there is combination of excess weight around the waist, a high level of “bad” cholesterol, a high level of triglycerides (a blood fat) and high blood pressure.
Leaders of the south Minneapolis churches be-lieve that congregations are uniquely equipped to help members deal with the Diabetes-2 health challenge. Churches are the institutions in our culture where health is regarded as wholeness of body, mind and spirit, they say, and can motivate persons to care for their bodies because they are “temples of the Holy Spirit.”
With that motivation, persons will be able to make the lifestyle changes necessary to ward off Diabetes-2.
Valborg Tollefsrud, a retired member of the St. Olaf College nursing faculty, is now parish nurse at Our Redeemer Lutheran, a participating congregation. She reflects this conviction.
“We need to become better stewards of the temples we’ve been given. The world doesn’t know about stewardship.”
Another asset congregations possess is a sense of community that will foster creation of trusted support groups needed by pre-diabetic people as they undertake major lifestyle changes.
The seeds of the project were planted in discussions in the fall of 2003 among members of the joint health ministry team of the City South Cluster — a group of six Lutheran congregations that work together on issues none is big enough to tackle alone. The six include Our Redeemer, Minnehaha Com-munion, Bethel, Lebanon, Epiphany and El Milagro/ The Miracle.
These churches, which had previously launched a similar project dealing with depression that is ongoing, obtained an initial grant of $12,000 from the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches to get the diabetes-prevention initiative started.
Success in obtaining that grant attracted other interested groups. These included the leadership of CoAM, a collaborative of 31 south Minneapolis congregations that provides educational programs, transportation services, travel opportunities and other programs for older adults. Seventeen of the 31 are Lutheran churches, including the six Cluster members.
Another key addition was the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium, which includes Fairview Health Services, the Academic Health Center at the University of Minnesota and Luther Seminary. Pat Peterson, coordinator of the Faith Health Consortium, took the lead in getting a second grant for the enlarged team — $30,000 from the Wheat Ridge Ministries.
A number of other congregations expressed interest as word about the project got out; and nine parishes were selected as sites for carrying out the program, each serving up to four congregations and having a trained nurse to coordinate the work.
Lutheran congregations that are program sites are Bethel, Bethlehem of south Minneapolis, House of Prayer in Richfield, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Com-munion teamed with Our Redeemer, Normandale of Edina and Trinity of Minnehaha Falls.
In April and May, the diabetes-prevention project got off the ground with two hour-long education sessions at each site. De-signed for powerpoint or overhead-projector presentation by Dr. James Struve, these programs show participants what Diabetes-2 is, the risk factors for getting it and the lifestyle changes that can prevent it.
“We transmitted the best research out into the community,” Struve said of the education programs.
A longtime family-practice physician, medical researcher and worshipper at Trinity of Minnehaha Falls, Struve plays an important role in the diabetes-prevention project. In extensive writings, he has advocated the inclusion of faith communities in the nation’s health-care network.
At the conclusion of the education sessions, participants were asked to fill out a health questionnaire that will indicate whether they are at risk for developing Diabetes 2. Those whose data put them in the pre-diabetic category are being strongly urged to take part in a year-long program of diet changes and exercise that will eliminate their risk factors.
Struve stresses two numerical goals for those participating in the program: 150 minutes of brisk walking per week and a loss of 7% of body weight. For those whose mobility is limited, other exercises can be substituted for walking. In achieving these goals, participants will experience a lowering in the levels of their blood sugar, blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol and tryglicerides and a lessening in their waist size.
A final component of the project will be the offering of a series of eight classes at each of the sites, probably next fall, in a curriculum called “The Circle of Life.” The nurses who are site coordinators were trained in teaching the classes May 23-24 at Bethlehem Lutheran.
Circle of Life is described as a comprehensive curriculum for “preventing disease, regaining health and maximizing personal effectiveness.” Advocates say the program is structured in such a way that participants “learn to think and behave in ways that support healthy lifestyle choices.”