Health experts: Obesity, chronic disease greatly affect each other

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and area health professionals have prepared by educating on how chronic disease relates to obesity. Through upcoming programs, they hope to help the community better prevent against illness and obesity.

On Nov. 21, a Diabetes Update from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. will be held at the Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center on the campus of Winchester Medical Center. It features  speakers Dawn Havrda, a Shenandoah University pharmacy program professor, talking about new treatments for diabetes and management of chronic disease; and Cathy Philpot, diabetes management educator and diabetes champion, speaking on the crisis of hyperglycemia.

On the surface, the solution to obesity seems simple. Many believe that diet and exercise are all that are needed.

But area health professionals say unseen challenges lurk below the surface of an epidemic that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affects more than a third of American adults and 17 percent of all American children.

Obesity contributes to disease and, likewise, can form from disease, said Tina Shelton, metabolic and bariatric program coordinator at Winchester Medical Center.

“We’re trying to direct people to the right places for their overall health,” she said.

Helping the hospital’s cause is the American Medical Association’s announcement last year that obesity is a disease in itself.

“It’s been a huge impact,” Shelton said.

However, all causes of obesity are not equal and cannot be solved in the same way. That’s why, with greater understanding of obesity as a disease, she said Valley Health now promotes an interdisciplinary team of physicians, therapists, dietitians and other experts who work together to offer more comprehensive care for patients.

“It’s a holistic, entire approach to get them on the road to becoming healthier,” Shelton said.

“I like the interdisciplinary approach because it’s not just pushing away from the table, it’s not just eating less. It’s more complicated than that,” she said.

Treatments include discovering the reasons why some patients perpetuate their obesity by overeating.

“They work through that, because there’s always deeper reasons why people eat,” Shelton said.

“A lot of people, in their defense, you know, they just don’t understand. Reading food labels is complicated,” she said.

In trying to help her patients change the way they think about food, Registered Dietitian Debbie Berg holds programs throughout the year to help the community better understand their options.

At 1 p.m., on the first Thursday of each month, A Healthy Grocery Cart takes participants through grocery store aisles of Food Lion, 269 Sunnyside Plaza Drive, Winchester, answering questions about food, in particular choices for diabetics. But she said anyone can benefit from the free program.

“We just, as a group, talk about the pros and cons of food,” she said. The next program will be at 1 p.m. Dec. 4.

Berg said she avoids encouraging diabetes patients to lose weight specifically, because she said everyone loses weight at different rates and can get discouraged if their progress is slow.

“We talk more about just making lifestyle changes that are doable, and not really letting the scale be the judge as to whether you’re a success or not. Because you can improve your A1C [blood test] by taking your medications and exercising, but some people are very weight-loss resistant,” she said.

The correlation between chronic disease and obesity is worsening, said Jessica Watson, director of the Chronic Disease Center at Winchester Medical Center.

Quoting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said, “96 (cents) of every Medicare dollar goes toward someone with chronic disease.”

The good news is chronic disease can be managed, but Watson advised taking pains to prevent it before it starts.

“As patients live longer they end up with more than one chronic illness as well,” Watson said.

A healthy lifestyle should include making smart food decisions, exercising and avoiding bad habits like smoking.

In the case of patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, she said, “How you treat yourself now can preserve some of that lung function so you can live well longer.”

<em>Register for Valley Health’s A Healthy Grocery Cart program at 540-536-5106. Meet Debbie Berg in the produce department at 1 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.

Register for the Diabetes Update at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 21 by calling 540-536-5106.</em>

<em>Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137  ext. 176, or <a href=“mailto:jkeelor@nvdaily.com”>jkeelor@nvdaily.com></a></em>