DCPS third graders get diabetes education

CAMBRIDGE — In November, every third-grade class in Dorchester County Public Schools got what a local physician’s assistant sees as a much needed lesson in nutrition and how a diet affects type 2 diabetes.

Ellen C. Jordan is a physician’s assistant with Choptank Community Health who helps maintain a general medical practice at the Fassett Magee Health Center in Cambridge.

“Dorchester County has an extremely high diabetes rate, extremely high,” Ms. Jordan said. “Especially here at Fassett, a huge percentage of our adult patients have type 2 diabetes.”

According to information provided by the American Diabetes Association on its website, www.diabetes.org, “Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time your pancreas isn’t able to keep up and can’t make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose levels normal. Type 2 is treated with lifestyle changes, oral medications (pills), and insulin. …Some people with type 2 can control their blood glucose with healthy eating and being active. . .”

Ms. Jordan said she does what she can to inform her patients who have the disease.

“I have become intimately familiar with type 2 diabetes because we have so many patients who have it,” she said. “I find myself explaining very basic things like what a carbohydrate is, how sodas, juice and sweet tea make it more difficult to control type 2 diabetes, things like that.”

Ms. Jordan saw a need to better educate the community about how diet, especially too much sugar intake, can lead to diabetes. She said this past summer, she reached out to Dr. Paula Brown, supervisor of Science, Health, PE and STEM with DCPS, to see if the schools could help spread the message.

“She hopped right on it,” Ms. Jordan said of Dr. Brown. “We were fortunate that there were (University of Maryland Eastern Shore) nutrition interns here for this semester doing part of their clinical rotations, so it was actually perfect. They came up with the curriculum itself and taught the classes to these students. It’s a one-time class that all the students are taking. It’s about an hour long.”

Ms. Jordan said she and Dr. Brown discussed which grade would be most appropriate for the lesson.

“We wanted it to be early enough to get these kids before their eating habits are so solidly ingrained but late enough that they can comprehend the message that we were trying to convey,” Ms. Jordan said. “Some people are a bit concerned that it might be too early. I don’t think it’s ever too early to try to explain where these diseases come from to kids. They need to know.”

The Dorchester County YMCA, which has its own education programs on diabetes, provided a coupon for winter sports programs to all the third graders. Choptank Community Health also gave each student a pedometer to encourage exercise.
Ms. Jordan said she hopes the classes are offered every year, and that diabetes awareness education expands at DCPS and in the community.

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