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Man manages his diabetes

Battling Diabetes With Nutrition and Health Education

Through health and nutrition education, Christian Community Health Center is taking on the scourge of diabetes rampant among its patients and Southside Chicago.

Although more than 10% of the city’s population has diabetes, the prevalence among African Americans on the South Side is much higher – more than triple the city’s rate in some neighborhoods, a Chicago Department of Public Health database shows. The diabetes-related death rate among Black Chicagoans is 70% higher than that of other races, according to a city health department report.

In 2022, 9% of patients at Community Christian had been diagnosed with diabetes and nearly 50% were overweight or obese because of poor diets, lack of exercise and living in food deserts, which complicated their condition management. 

With support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the nonprofit health center hired a dietitian nutritionist and helped about 200 patients increase access to healthy foods and adopt healthier lifestyles.

Now, patients identified as having prediabetes are referred for wellness education to focus on prevention, says Shaune Freeman, the center’s population health and care management director. Patients newly diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension are referred for education on condition management.

“We’re able to see what’s realistic in terms of setting reasonable goals and documenting them in patient charts,” he says. “Patients and providers are actively having conversations about what’s realistic for them and setting smart goals. We can do all of this in-house.”

Christian Community is among several BCBSIL Blue Impact℠ grant recipients statewide working to address social determinants of health, including nutrition and access to transportation and physical activity. 

“As we find new ways to help improve public health in the 102 Illinois counties we serve, we make grants available to organizations that are committed to tackling the challenges of health equity,” says Tonita Cheatham, BCBSIL executive director of communications and community relations. “We look forward to building alliances with nonprofits that work to strengthen their communities.”

The partnership with Community Christian is critical in helping Chicago neighborhoods become healthier, says Dr. Derek Robinson, BCBSIL vice president and chief medical officer. 

“People with diabetes are at risk for more serious health complications, but the good news is that it can be managed with education and lifestyle changes,” he says. “That’s why it’s our honor to support Christian Community Health Center and continue to support diabetes care by offering diabetes management programs, hosting diabetes screenings and distributing fresh produce at our Blue Door Neighborhood Center locations. Like Christian Community Health Center, we’re committed to raising awareness about diabetes and promoting prevention.”

For Freeman, sustainable disease management requires ensuring patients have the right tools such as blood pressure monitors and training to use them properly and consistently. Patients also learn how simple diet and lifestyles modifications can lead to significant improvements. Additionally, the health center offers exercise incentives and links patients to resources where they can access healthy foods and meet their wellness goals.

“By documenting the education in the patient record, all of us can be on the same page and reinforce these conversations with patients,” Freeman says.

The education has drastically improved outcomes for some patients, including a man who weighed 400 pounds, had sleep apnea and took several medications for diabetes. The program helped him drop his A1C level — a measure of blood sugar level over time — from 15 to 6. He’s lost 85 pounds, takes fewer medications and no longer has sleep apnea.

“We want patients to learn how the choices they make can help or hinder them in reaching their goals,” Freeman says.

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association