Dr. Erica Thompson realised the importance of preventing type 2 diabetes when she saw one of its scariest complications: amputation.

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Thompson found work at an amputation clinic in Jackson, Mississippi. She met one women who had lost a leg and was at risk of losing the other. Shortly after they met, the woman died, but not before she had made an impression on the young doctor. At that point, Thompson realised that prevention was a much better and more realistic strategy than constantly trying to treat the terrible effects of the condition.

“Why do we have to wait until you have it? We spend so much more to treat as opposed to sit down with someone. It’s reactive instead of proactive, and it’s always cheaper on the other side,” she said.

“I thought it would be so great if we could think of a way to do prevention rather than treatment.”

In 2009, the amputation clinic ran out of money. Thompson took the opportunity to treat amputation as she thought it should be treated. So, along with her husband, she established the Magnolia Medical Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that would focus on teaching people how to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes in the first place.

Thompson believes that people are more likely to lie in a doctor’s office. They don’t want to admit to a medical professional whom they don’t know that they haven’t been living a particularly healthy lifestyle. What was needed, then, was a way to bring preventative guidance into a friendlier environment, a place where people would feel comfortable being completely open and honest about how they lived. Somewhere like a church.

Thompson was right. When she gave her first talk in a church in a town called Natchez, she noticed people admitting their problems, and conceding how much they were struggling to live healthily. In church, “we’re in your world. And we want you to be yourself. There’s no judgement about it.”


 

Joe Wilcots had a problem: his congregation were almost all overweight. As Pastor of the Disciples of Christ Church, about an hour away from Jackson. he knew that he had a responsibility to guide these people, emotionally and spiritually, and that meant helping them stay healthy.

“As a pastor when you look out over the congregation and see people overweight, then you want to help them,” Wilcots said.

Wilcots went to his neighbors – one a reverend, one a doctor – and sought their advice. They suggested he introduce a weight-loss programme, and encourage his congregation to join in. Wilcots agreed, thinking it would “be good for the body of Christ.”

obesity type 2 diabetes prevention

The Magnolia Medical Foundation is a nonprofit organisation established by Dr. Thompson to prevent type 2 diabetes, rather than spending huge amounts of money on treatment.

Wilcots invited Dr. Thompson to give a series of talks at the pulpit after every Friday evening service. The program lasted for four months. Everyone joined in; one in three people out of the whole congregation was likely to develop type 2 diabetes. But Dr. Thompson also explained that the risk could be offset through a loss of between five and seven per cent of their body mass.

The talks were wide-ranging, covering a number of topics. They included emotional/comfort eating, sugar substitutes, and easy forms of exercise. Dr. Thompson emphasised that there was no need for drastic lifestyle overhauls, just small, manageable changes that could make a huge difference to their health.

21 men and women joined the program, and after the four months they had lost a combined total of 132 pounds. That sounds like quite a minor change, but we know that, in many cases, weight loss is more effective than drugs for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Certainly, something needs to be done: Mississippi has the second-highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the US; nearly 12.5 per cent of the population have been diagnosed.

Many of the people who took part in Thompson’s programmes had tried more conventional weight loss methods. They had been to the doctor. They had joined Weight Watchers. But nobody had managed to hit home about the emotional role food was playing in their lives, or the realities of what was actually in the food they were eating. Martha Moss, a 54-year-old singer in the church choir, was one of the most successful participants in the program. She explained how Thompson’s novel approach had struck a chord with her.

“I know that Coke wasn’t good for you, we’ve all heard that. I never knew it was so much sugar in Coke. I was just shocked.” Of the programme, she said: “I think we were at a point where we really kind of needed it. To be beneficial to the Lord, as far as being able to witness, you’ve got to be in good shape.”

Dr. Richard Pratley admires the program, and hopes that Thompson’s approach will be more widely applied to preventative measures. He recognises that developing the trust that allows people to be truly honest takes a long time. “Any time you are working in a community, you have to build trust with a community,” he says. “There’s no quick fix.”

But the method is not without its problems, chief among which is how to pay for it. Thompson’s scheme costs between $300 and $450 per participant, and if the program is going to remain free – which, for its target audience, it really needs to – that money has to be scraped together from somewhere. Thompson’s work with the Disciples of Christ church was funded through a grant from the state health department. Pratley was forced to cobble together the money from individual donors and grants. In order to be consistently viable, there needs to be a constant source of funding to which medical practitioners can apply.

Dietrich Taylor, director of Mississippi’s diabetes prevention program, is working towards just that. In her view, the program should be offered to employees by employers through health insurance. Thompson agrees that the money should come from insurance, and she has been in touch with insurers who are willing to cover the program. To Thompson, this represents great progress. She has spent a whole career being frustrated that nothing is done about type 2 diabetes until it’s too late.

Image source: http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/2014/05/08/3406/