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Release: Dec. 19, 2001

NOTE TO EDITORS: Past REACH program participants may be available for interviews. Contact Becky Soglin, Health Science Relations, at (319) 335-6660 if you are interested.

Resolving to ward off type 2 diabetes? UI Health Care program can help

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- You might be among the growing number of Americans, at least 10 million, who are at risk for type 2 diabetes and its complications such as heart disease and blindness. However, with the new year around the corner, you can resolve -- and take action -- to prevent or delay onset of the condition by enrolling in a University of Iowa Health Care exercise program that begins Jan. 8.

The eight-week program, "Reaching Euglycemia and Comprehensive Health" (REACH), helps people with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), the precursor of type 2 diabetes, to normalize their blood sugar (reach euglycemia). People with newly developed diabetes may also benefit from the program and prevent complications. In addition, the program welcomes people with diabetes risk factors who are hesitant to start an exercise program because of chronic problems, such as arthritis. Exercise routines are individualized to each person's needs and physical condition.

People are at increased risk of developing impaired glucose tolerance, the precursor of type 2 diabetes, and diabetes if any of the following conditions apply: having family members with diabetes; being overweight; having high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels; and being of Native American, African American or Hispanic descent. In addition, several factors put women at risk: having diabetes during pregnancy; giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds; and having polycystic ovarian syndrome (an endocrine condition).

The REACH program provides counseling, expert advice, exercise evaluation and exercise sessions. Participants attend bi-weekly educational and exercise classes to help them ward off diabetes. The program fee is $205.

"The most recent research supports the fact that diabetes can be prevented by lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and more exercise, which is the basis of the REACH program," said Rhonda Barr, UI physical therapist and REACH program coordinator.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) findings published last August showed that improved diet and exercise in combination were significantly more effective than the use of medication alone in preventing diabetes, especially in the elderly.

The study found that people who ate better and exercised more reduced their risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. The health advantage was even more impressive for people over the age of 60, who, as a group, reduced their risk by 71 percent.

Type 2 diabetes is usually adult-onset and causes insulin resistance, in which the body makes insulin but does not respond well to it. Left untreated or inadequately controlled, diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and infections. Type 2 diabetes affects 8 percent of Americans age 20 and older, and nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population age 60 and older.

The UI's REACH program has been offered seven times since it started in fall 1999, and participants range in age from their 20s to 60s. A recent class included "support" people for two participants.

"The support people may not be at risk for diabetes but do everything the participant does in terms of attending class and doing exercises," Barr said. "The support person also agrees to help the participant adopt those changes and keep up with them for the long term."

Barr emphasized that the REACH program makes every effort to find exercises that fit into each person's lifestyle so they'll be "willing and able to keep it up for a lifetime."

"People may have limitations in their ability to walk or move due to problems such as joint pain, knees problems or back surgery, " Barr said. "We individualize the exercises so that the participants can be more active but not aggravate their condition."

In addition to Barr's expertise in physical therapy, REACH staff includes the expertise of a dietician, a mental health counselor, a diabetes nurse educator, a physician assistant and a physician. The health care professionals speak on topics such as making wise selections when dining out and how to choose appropriate exercise footwear.

The easiest way to determine if a person has IGT is to have a fasting (before breakfast) blood sugar test. REACH offers a free screening program for IGT and diabetes.

For more information about the free REACH screening, call UI Health Access toll-free at (800) 777-8442 or 384-8442 locally. For more information about enrolling in the eight-week REACH diabetes prevention program, call (319) 356-2663.

To read about the NIH findings on diet and exercise delay type 2 diabetes, visit: http://www.niddk.nih/gov/welcome/releases/8_8_01.htm.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at