'Sugar Stompers' lead the way as Eatonville steps up its health

A few years ago, a community-health survey found that almost 24 percent of Eatonville residents reported having diabetes. That’s more than twice the national average. Research suggests we are more likely to be successful with lifestyle changes when we have supportive family and friends, or are part of a group of like-minded people that is committed to change. A great example of this can be found in the town of Eatonville.

Concerned residents of the town, with community partners, joined together to create Healthy Eatonville Place, a resource for health promotion and education.

Since opening its doors in 2014, residents have taken part in free health-education classes and individual coaching sessions provided at Healthy Eatonville Place. A wide variety of classes are offered, ranging from a healthy-nutrition and cooking program provided by local partner Hebni Nutrition, to exercise classes for seniors, to diabetes prevention and diabetes self-management education classes offered in partnership with the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute.

At these classes, participants find inspiration and support from others who are dealing with similar challenges in their lives. In fact, many participants continue to motivate and encourage one another well after the formal classes end. One of the first diabetes education classes at Healthy Eatonville Place even created its own walking group, “Sugar Stompers.”

So, how’s it working?

“Great,” according to members of the Healthy Eatonville Place team who have tracked the health of the participants. Of the participants with pre-diabetes, 97 percent have remained non-diabetic. And among those with diabetes, most experienced significant improvements in both blood-sugar control and blood pressure. These improvements mean a lower risk for the long-term complications of diabetes such as blindness, kidney failure, leg amputations and heart attacks.

Here’s the takeaway, beyond Eatonville:

A healthier lifestyle can have a big impact on your health. But change is not easy — especially when you are going at it alone. Find yourself some family members or friends who share your goals. Meet to exercise. Cook or go out for healthy meals together. Support one another. Have fun with it. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is when you are in it together.

If your New Year’s resolution was to lose weight or get in better shape, you were not alone. According to the online polling company YouGov, the top two resolutions for 2018 were to eat better and exercise more. In a country where two-thirds of the population is overweight, this make sense. We all want to be healthier and feel better.

Unfortunately, by the time February rolls around, most of us have abandoned our resolutions and returned to our old habits. Work, school, family obligations and a host of other demands pull us away from our goals. It’s hard to stay committed.

How can we do a better job of keeping on track?

Eatonville has shown us the way.

Richard E. Pratley, M.D., is the director for research and education at the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute.