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Health Education Continues Even During Pandemic
Kansas Ag Connection - 07/30/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic drove many into isolation, and in-person classes came to a grinding halt. But that didn't stop a group of extension agents from figuring out how to keep teaching in their communities.

The result was online training for residents of southwest Kansas who wanted to learn about diabetes and how to manage the chronic disease that's characterized by elevated blood sugar (blood glucose).

Educating Kansans about diabetes and how to manage it is not new for K-State Research and Extension agents, but once the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States last spring prompting the cancellation of face-to-face training, Monica Walker and several of her colleagues started working on a way to teach classes virtually.

Walker, a family and community wellness agent in Grant County, wanted to create online sessions featuring familiar faces from the region rather than videos featuring educators that community members were not familiar with.

"This would keep us in contact with our local stakeholders during the COVID-19 restrictions," she said

Walker worked with fellow extension agents Christine McPheter in Meade County, Crystal Bashford in Morton County and Nancy Honig in the Wild West Extension District plus state specialists to use existing resources and produce an online program titled, Diabetes: You Are In Control.

The training involved three sessions and included local health professionals as guest speakers, plus recipe demonstrations by the extension agents. Each session closed with time for questions and answers with the health professionals. A packet of handouts and recipe books was mailed to all participants.

With one in 10 adult Kansans having been diagnosed with diabetes, Walker and her colleagues consider the training critical. The disease can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and retinopathy that can result in blindness, but Walker said Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with nutrition and exercise. Plus, she added, it's important to know ways of healthy coping -- all topics that are covered in the training.

"Technical difficulties are always a part of any online program, in addition to loss of personal contact and not being able to give samples of the recipes for tasting," she said of the challenges in adapting the training for virtual delivery. Plus, a large part of the population with type 2 diabetes is older adults who may not have access to technology or lack the training to use it.

A big benefit, however, was that southwest Kansas residents were able to participate from their homes rather than physically attend classes.

The Diabetes: You Are in Control program provides a good overview and complements a more detailed in-person program, Dining with Diabetes, that extension agents have offered for several years, Walker said.

If the COVID-19 restrictions continue, thereby making in-person meetings not advisable, she and her colleagues plan to offer the training again. They also have a template available for agents in other parts of the state who may want to offer the training.

Meanwhile on the other side of the state in Wyandotte County, family and consumer sciences extension agent Lori Wuellner is working on a Zoom recording version of Diabetes: You Are In Control that she's making available to the local library system. In that way, anyone can access the training at any time through that system.

Wuellner, who specializes in nutrition education and oversees her county's Master Food Volunteer program, said she's also used the diabetes management materials as a basis for virtual training for local government employees.

More information about diabetes education in Kansas is available by contacting your local K-State Research and Extension office; online in the factsheet Diabetes: You Are In Control and on the Eating Well With Diabetes web page.

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