Hesperian Health Guides
Community Action for Diabetes
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While individual people get diabetes and can make changes to improve their health, the changes that can prevent more and more people from getting diabetes can only be made at the community level. For example, one person can choose what kinds of foods to put in her mouth, but her choices are limited by what kinds of foods are available and affordable in her community. One person can want to exercise more, but she cannot choose if her neighborhood is safe enough to do so. It is best to bring families and communities together to change the conditions that cause diabetes or make diabetes worse.
Protect babies and children
To prevent diabetes, feed mothers and children well. Give enough nutritious food to boys and girls. Children malnourished in the womb or in childhood are more likely to get diabetes later. Avoid giving children sugar, sweets, or other junk foods.
Improve access to healthy foods
To increase the variety, amount, and affordability of healthy foods in your community:
- Hold cooking classes to teach about healthy eating. When people see that healthy foods taste good and learn how to prepare them, they will want to eat them.
- Pass along the healthy food traditions of your culture. When favorite traditional foods are unhealthy, it is best to limit how much we eat of them. Choose the healthier ones and ask elders in your community to share their recipes.
- Use schools to involve children in growing, cooking, and eating healthy foods. Snacks given at schools can be made from local grains, fruits, and vegetables. Stop the sale of junk foods and sugary drinks to children in and near schools.
- Establish community kitchens where people without a place to cook can prepare food. Healthy low-cost group meals are another solution.
- Build a community garden where people can grow their own food. Even growing a little food can make a difference in how you eat. Some people in cities grow food on rooftops, balconies or in vacant lots.
- Organize farmers markets or food cooperatives to ensure people have access to healthy foods and that farmers have a place to sell their crops. For more on community food projects, see A Community Guide to Environmental Health.
Create places to exercise and play
In urban areas, people may not have safe places where they can be active. Communities have come together to build football fields, basketball courts, and playgrounds. These areas often become community gathering places.
Lead community education
Teach what diabetes is, where it comes from, the severe problems it can cause, and why to take it seriously even if signs are not severe at the beginning. Encourage people to tell their stories about diabetes, share their knowledge, and ask questions. They might plan to eat healthier food or exercise together.
Other topics for discussion and action might include water and air pollution, racism, and the economic or political conditions that create stress in the community.
Organize group testing
Diabetes testing days are a good way for people to find out if they have diabetes, even if they do not have signs. Test people who have warning signs or who are older than 40 and have family members with diabetes.
For testing large groups of people, urine tests may be easiest. Blood tests are also useful but should be done when the person has not yet eaten that day, ideally in the morning before breakfast. To take a urine test, a person does not have to be fasting, but the tester should write down the time of test and when the person last ate, as sugars go up after eating. See more on testing.
A support group is a group of people who meet regularly (like once every week or two) to help each other. A support group can start in a neighborhood, a school, a church, or a workplace—wherever a group of people want to start one. Sometimes a community health worker, clinic worker, or teacher will start and participate in the group. Other groups ask such people to meet with them only sometimes.
People with diabetes meet together to share ways they have learned to care for themselves, discuss things that are difficult, and gain a sense of community. People who just found out they have diabetes can benefit from meeting with people who have been living with diabetes for a while. Support groups can discuss the challenges of cooking and eating together as a family now that one person needs to change what she eats in order to stay healthy. And the group can take on projects to make the community healthier for everyone. A support group can continue and grow for many years if participants find it helpful.
Other community efforts
- Urge health care officials to offer free testing for people who might have diabetes and to make sure medicines and diabetes testing supplies are available and affordable.
- Fight for safe water in order to spend less on water sold in bottles or beverages that are unhealthy.
- Stop chemical pollution at the source.
- Reduce the use of pesticides.