Fond du Lac takes aim at diabetesDiabetes, a growing problem nationwide, hits American Indian populations particularly hard. Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, nearly 16.1 percent have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Linda Dunaiski is one of those people who likes winter.
“I downhill ski, I cross-country ski, I snowshoe,” the Solway Township woman said. “I’m actually looking forward to winter.”
At 59, Dunaiski is active year-round, taking her 15-minute breaks from work at the Min No Aya Win Human Services Center on the Fond du Lac Reservation for vigorous morning and afternoon walks. On weekends, she takes 30- to 45-mile bike rides with her husband, Paul.
The game-changer for Dunaiski came in March 2011, when the children’s mental health case worker was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. She thought about her three children, and how much she still wanted to share in their lives.
“Everybody in my family dies young, it seems like,” Dunaiski said. “So as my kids were growing up, I thought: I want to be around for them.”
So she enrolled in the Fond du Lac Band’s Diabetes Prevention Program, a 16-week program designed to teach healthy lifestyles and wise choices.
Diabetes, a growing problem nationwide, hits American Indian populations particularly hard. Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, nearly 16.1 percent have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
That’s a higher percentage than for any other ethnic group, and almost double the percentage in the general population, 8.3 percent.
Among the Fond du Lac people, about 17 percent have diabetes, said Mary Jo Koszarek, who has coordinated the diabetes prevention program for about a dozen years. Among the tribe’s elderly, she said, it’s more like 1 in 2. That often means residents undergoing dialysis or having limbs amputated.
“When you talk to folks here, it seems like everyone knows someone, either within their family or friends, that has devastating results from diabetes,” Koszarek said.
The prevention program is an all-out effort to fight back.
“What was recognized or learned a number of years ago was that diabetes could be prevented or at least delayed,” Koszarek said. “About 10 years ago we won a prevention grant, so we have a major diabetes prevention program ongoing.”
In addition to classes, the seven-member prevention team came up with a vigorous advertising campaign to promote healthy lifestyles: ads wrapped around Duluth Transit Authority buses, billboards, ads on gas pumps and in public restrooms and radio commercials featuring familiar voices in the community.
The effort has been noticed by the American Diabetes Association, which presented the Fond du Lac program with one of three “John Pipe Voices for Change Awards” in August. The band’s award, named after a Montana man known for his diabetes prevention efforts, was given in the area of advocacy.
The Fond du Lac won the award because “they’re very unique in what they do,” said Kelly Concho-Hayes, associate director for American Indian Alaska Native initiatives with the diabetes association. “They work very hard in regards to doing things differently than you would see anywhere else on a reservation.”
For example, Concho-Hayes said, no one else thought of using outsized ads on buses to make their point. But it was a smart way to reach Fond du Lac Band members, many of whom use public transportation.
But a smaller ad particularly caught Dunaiski’s attention. It said that a 5-7 percent weight loss has been shown to decrease the likelihood of Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.
So Dunaiski embraced the program’s recommendations to track the fat grams of each item she eats, to wear a pedometer and to track the number of steps she takes each day. Long after completing the program, she continues to faithfully record those numbers in a notebook. She still consults weekly with Jennifer Hall, one of the program’s teachers.
It has worked. Although she always will be considered pre-diabetic, Dunaiski has gotten her blood sugar down to the normal range. She has lost 40 pounds. She strives for at least 45 minutes of activity per day.
She hasn’t eaten a hamburger in 2½ years.
And she feels the difference.
“I feel better than I did in my 30s and 40s,” Dunaiski said.
She gives all of the credit to the diabetes prevention program, particularly praising Hall and the other three teachers.
“I can’t say enough for it,” she said. “I seriously believe it’s put on 10 years to my lifespan.”