The Deal: MSU helps students cope with a diabetes diagnosis and related care

The Deal: MSU helps students cope with a diabetes diagnosis and related care
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Adjusting to a new lifestyle can be difficult for anyone, but it is especially challenging for teenagers with Type 2 diabetes.

When a doctor gives a diagnosis of diabetes, the first order of business is change.

For teenagers, who often do not number among the healthiest eaters, changing daily eating habits can be a difficult process.

That was true for Mychel-Anne Perry, a 16-year-old Redford resident who has Type 2 diabetes. Since being diagnosed in 2015, she has worked hard to understand the disease and how to care for herself through diet and exercise.

Perry has support. Her sister, Taylor, was born with Type 1. Together they work to make smart food choices and share what they know about the condition with others.

When a doctor gives a diagnosis of diabetes, the first order of business is change.

“I found out when I was in the 10th grade from a blood test,” says Perry, who receives help from the staff at the Diabetes Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. “Taking care of my diabetes is a team effort … I walk the treadmill if I have time, I play the (Nintendo) Wii and I walk our dog.”

Mychel-Anne Perry's life has a new "normal." She's learned to control her diabetes and not let it control her.
Mychel-Anne Perry’s life has a new “normal.” She’s learned to control her diabetes and not let it control her.

Helping teens survive and thrive with Type 2 diabetes is the main reason Michigan State University has partnered with schools, parents and students in the Detroit area and Flint Community Schools on a program to educate these communities about the disease. A new curriculum called “What Makes Us the Way We Are?” is being introduced for sixth-grade students in Flint and Detroit after a successful spring pilot program.

Student response was so strong MSU and its partners recently received an $89,000 grant from the Science Education Partnership Award through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand the program. The Flint curriculum and community events are part of a five-year, $1.2-million project funded by the NIH partnership award.

The expanded grant and overall impact of the program thrills Sharon Saddler, a Flint resident living with diabetes and a representative of Community Based Organization Partners (CBOP) in Flint.

“We want to educate teens at a young age and help them monitor what they’re doing.”-Sharon Saddler, Flint Resident and CBOP Representative

Saddler, a teacher for more than three decades, says she appreciates how the curriculum connects students to real-world experiences and provides relevance for their learning. During the unit, students investigate how lifestyle options for healthy foods and exercise help prevent or reduce diabetes.

Mychel-Anne Perry’s (right) type 2 diabetes diagnosis has brought her and her sister Taylor even closer together.
Mychel-Anne Perry’s (right) type 2 diabetes diagnosis has brought her and her sister Taylor even closer together.

“We want to educate teens at a young age and help them monitor what they’re doing,” Saddler says. “People of African-American descent are the most predisposed to diabetes. That makes it a family problem, not just an individual problem.

“This curriculum is an inter-generational learning opportunity. Education happens on a 24-hour basis. It’s not just what happens from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Families are powerful and viable partners in education,” she says.

The curriculum’s goal is to teach young people, families and educators about the factors that result in Type 2 diabetes, how to live with the disease and how to prevent it. “What Makes Us the Way We Are” brings together how genetics as well as lifestyle choices increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes in all people.

One in 10 adults in Michigan is diagnosed with diabetes, and the rates are significantly higher for Flint residents and African-Americans, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Diabetes, like many common diseases, is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

When diabetes is diagnosed in the young, life expectancy is shortened an average of 18 to 22 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly one in every three children born in the U.S. after the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime, according to the CDC. For children from ethnic minority groups, the ratio rises to one in two.

What is at issue is the age people are getting Type 2 diabetes is trending younger and younger, says Renee Bayer, associate director for engagement at the CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU. The institute is collaborating with CBOP, local school districts, the University of Michigan, the Sloan Museum and the Flint Public Library.

“(The curriculum) is important in helping students realize science is relevant in their lives. It really has helped them become more engaged with the topic,” Bayer says. “Science needs to be interactive. It makes the kids get excited about it.”

Additional collaborators in Detroit are University Preparatory Schools, Detroit Public Schools Community District, the Detroit Public Library, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Michigan Science Center and Friends of Parkside. The Concord Consortium in Massachusetts is also a partner.

For the more than one million Michiganders with the disease, diabetes self-management education (DSME) continues to be the cornerstone of treatment. DSME assists with behavior change related to healthy eating, physical activity and self-monitoring. As a result, Michigan highlights American Diabetes Month every November to raise awareness and help residents lead healthier lifestyles.

Perry, a junior at Cornerstone Health and Technology High School, says her main advice to teens and anyone at risk of Type 2 diabetes is take responsibility for your own health.

“Remember, nobody want to be in this predicament. You want to avoid it,” Perry says. “Your priority should be to stay out of it if you can.”

Editor’s Note: Take a diabetes risk test and get Michigan Diabetes Prevention programs listings. More information about DSME and Michigan’s more than 90 DSME programs, can be found at www.michigan.gov/diabetes.

The Michigan Fitness Foundation  healthy recipes and GOguide activity tips provide great tools, which can help manage diabetes and improve overall family health.

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