Healthy eating for holidays focus of Mattapan event

Jackie Gentile, Special to the Reporter
Nov. 29, 2012

On Nov. 17 Harbor Health Services (HHSI), Neighborhood Health Plan (NHP), the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) joined forces to host Living Well with Diabetes: A Healthy Thanksgiving Event. The agenda was packed with Zumba classes, a cooking demonstration, health screenings and informational sessions such as “Living with an Adult with Diabetes” and “Culturally-Based Myths and Misperceptions about BMIs.” The event took place at HHSI’s administrative offices on Morton St. in Mattapan.

Gerry Thomas, director of the Community Initiatives Bureau for the Boston Health Commission, attended on behalf of Mayor Menino and declared Nov. 17 to be Boston Community Health Centers Fight Back Against Diabetes Day.

Al Whitaker, ADA Director of Mission Delivery in New England, presented a cooking demonstration of one Thanksgiving dessert enjoyed by many a sweet tooth: apple crisp. Using less sugary ingredients, Whitaker showed attendees a delicious, diabetic-friendly alternative of the classic dish.

HHSI Marketing Director Eleni Kontogli explained the reasoning behind hosting the event before Thanksgiving.

“Because the holidays are coming up, we know very well from basically the way that we live that we’re not very careful in what we’re eating,” she said. “Also, we knew very well from the communities and the patients that we’re working with that there’s a misunderstanding about what [and how much we] need to eat.”

According to the ADA’s 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 25.8 million adults and children (8.3 percent of the U.S. population) have diabetes. About 79 million have pre-Diabetes.

“You can do a lot with diet and exercise to prevent the onset of full-out Diabetes,” said Mike Conley, Assistant Clinical Professor at Northeastern and HHSI Clinical Pharmacy Resident at Neponset Health Center. The typical profile of a person with pre-Diabetes is someone in their forties who is overweight.

Conley, who helped run a Biggest Winner contest for local participants with Diabetes this summer, felt that the turnout benefitted both those with diabetes and those without it.

“It’s an opportunity for people in the neighborhood to walk over and just learn some information on a disease state that is extremely prevalent. [It’s] skyrocketing,” he said. “I think that especially with the holidays coming around, people [need] to just be a little more conscious of what they’re eating and how they’re eating. It’ll make them be able to enjoy the holiday but yet continue to manage their blood sugars.”

With a strong history of firsts, HHSI wanted to address the issue of Diabetes, a disease that has become more prevalent in recent years and one whose complications affect more people in the low- to middle-income classes and the elderly. The organization opened the Geiger Gibson in 1965, the first community health center in the nation. At that time, it was known as the Columbia Point Community Health Center. Currently, HHSI’s Elder Service Plan (ESP) program serves as a model for Medicare and Medicaid’s accountable care organization (ACO) development.

“We would like to present ourselves as a model for everybody,” said Kerin O’Toole, Public Affairs Director of the League. “We’re there for everybody,” said Kontogli.

Though she walks by the building often, Theodora Wedgeworth, a local nursing assistant, stepped in for the first time to check out this event. Armed with plenty of information for her diabetic patients afterward, Wedgeworth is happy that such a facility exists in the community and is readily available to all.

For those with diabetes, she offered the following holiday advice: if you have recently been diagnosed with Diabetes, meet with your physician and discuss meal plans; know how to check your blood sugar; take your medication on time; and take a walk around your neighborhood for exercise.

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