Alabama has a problem with diabetes. Well, America has a problem with diabetes — it affects about 25.8 million Americans, or about 8.3 percent of the U.S population, according to one estimate — but Alabama, especially, has a problem with diabetes. In fact, it has one of the highest rates in the country.
That’s part of the reason why the City of Birmingham was chosen to host a new diabetes management pilot program called Cities for Life. The program, initiated by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation (AAFPF) and sponsored by Sanofi US, hopes to connect patients with convenient, easily accessible and easily sustainable resources to mitigate the effects of diabetes.
The Cities for Life program’s many partners — AAFPF, UAB HealthSmart, UAB’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, UAB’s Diabetes Research and Training Center Community Engagement Core, a number of family medicine practices and the YMCA of Greater Birmingham — will reach out to those with diabetes and those at risk of diabetes and work with them.
“We actually chose Birmingham over 50 other cities in part for two reasons,” AAFPF President Dr. Mary Jo Welker told Weld Local Tuesday. “Number one is that you do have a high incidence of diabetes here in this community, and number two, because I think that the city itself, the mayor and others are very forward-thinking people who are trying very hard to improve the lifestyle of the patients here with good recreation facilities, good community resources for food and nutrition, and those are things that are very important to diabetes care.”
Dr. Mona N. Fouad, a professor of medicine at UAB, told Weld Local that the need and the partnerships with area medical programs made Birmingham a “perfect fit” for Cities for Life. “You know, Alabama, actually, is almost number one in diabetes risk in the whole country and number two in diabetes—in diabetes and obesity,” Fouad said. “So we have great need in this state.”
Fouad said unmanaged care of diabetes in patients is a significant problem in Alabama, and the Cities for Life program will focus on managing care for patients. She said that part of the problem is that health care facilities operate in “silos” in communities, and that patients don’t have enough access to frequent care—in her words, ”there is no linkage” following a patient’s meeting with a doctor.
“The patient needs a lot of community resources to manage the diabetes, to help them comply with the medications, to help them with access to the right food for a diabetic, to access physical activity,” Fouad said. “But the problem is that once the patients leaves the physician’s office, then they deal with a lot of barriers to get to these needs.”
Fouad says the Cities for Life program will link primary care with community resources to create a comprehensive system for patients. If the program is successful, it could be replicated in other cities.
Birmingham City Councilor Jay Roberson said his district, which consists of southwest Birmingham, has many diabetes sufferers, so he hopes this program will be successful. “Alabama has one of the highest diabetes rates in the country — it’s not one of the most healthiest states — so this is an educational opportunity for our citizens, it’s an opportunity to build awareness about diabetes and how can we address diabetes in our community,” Roberson told Weld Local.
“The main focus here is not only just to research and identify these citizens that suffer from diabetes but to also get sustainability in the community and make sure there’s healthcare outreach and there’s clinics or family clinics involved long term to still support combating diabetes in our community.”