09:07 AM

Investing in the Health and Wellness of Our Communities: Diabetes



Type 2 diabetes is preventable and it’s one of the fastest-growing epidemics in New Jersey. Learn what we’re doing to combat this health issue.

One of the nation’s – and New Jersey’s – fastest-growing diseases is preventable.

Nevertheless, the number of adults diagnosed with it has more than doubled in the last 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

The disease is … type 2 diabetes, which is now the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Its prevalence is so widespread -- across all age groups, geographies and demographics -- that The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey has made it a major focus in its ongoing efforts to improve the health of all New Jersey residents, including Horizon members.

“Diabetes is an epidemic, and about 9 percent of New Jersey’s population suffers from the disease. That’s expected to grow to 20 percent by 2025,” said Jonathan R. Pearson, Executive Director of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. “We think the Foundation can help stem the tide of the problem by working with community-based organizations to educate individuals to make better lifestyle choices to prevent it.”

Among those diagnosed with diabetes, more than 90 percent have type 2 (or chronic) diabetes, which occurs when the body’s blood sugar level is too high. The good news is type 2 diabetes can be prevented or effectively treated through lifestyle modifications: healthier eating, exercise and preventative visits to the doctor.

However, many individuals continue to struggle with the disease due to other factors including social determinants of care, including poverty, lack of understanding good nutrition, living in a “food desert” (where it is difficult to find affordable or good-quality fresh food), transportation and limited access to medical care. Plus, diabetes often leads to other serious health conditions, such as heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease.

According to Pearson, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey has invested more than $55 million in grant awards to nonprofit organizations in New Jersey that support various health initiatives since its inception in 2004. Diabetes education has become a major focus in recent years, as certain pockets of New Jersey, predominantly urban areas, have a higher prevalence of diabetes and other chronic conditions, including obesity. To date, the Foundation has issued 116 grants for diabetes-related initiatives.

“We create partnerships with nonprofit and community-based organizations that have the infrastructure and delivery mechanism to carry out projects and generate a positive outcome,” he explained. “By focusing on areas with the greatest need, we are making strategic grant investments to have the biggest impact.”

One of the Foundation’s grantees is the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative, Bergen County’s only healthcare center that provides free primary care to low-income residents who are working but don’t have insurance. Similarly, the Foundation is supporting the Parker Family Health Center’s (PFHC) diabetes program, which works to prevent the disease through education and awareness, screenings and referrals for high-risk individuals in Monmouth County.

Carmen Phaneuf, a nurse at the PFHC for 17 years, works with people who have diabetes or prediabetes, a health condition whereby blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet in the diabetes range. She sees about 120 patients each month, many of whom are unfamiliar with the disease or the steps to prevent it, such as maintaining a regular diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, robust exercise and how to self-monitor insulin levels.

Pearson noted that Carmen and other diabetes care professionals often must deal with significant knowledge barriers, as some community members are unfamiliar with some basic steps that can mitigate the impact of the disease.

“Some families are not familiar with or know how to prepare healthy meals using vegetables or incorporating fresh fruits into their daily diets,” he added. “Once they understand what they can do, and actually do it, you can begin to see a difference and improvement in their health and attitude.”..

Nonprofit organizations interested in applying for a Horizon Foundation grant may visit www.Community.HorizonBlue.com for more information.