Dance Away Diabetes

As anybody who’s been following the news over the last year or so will know, there is a growing epidemic among American children – type 2 diabetes.

It’s a problem that is both confronting and confounding more doctors, families, and health care professionals every day.

Until 15 years ago, type 2 diabetes was never seen in young people. Now it’s occurring with alarming frequency. And, type 2 diabetes appears to be more aggressive in young people between the ages of 10 and 17, putting them at great risk for life-threatening illnesses typically associated with seniors. Doctors know that a major risk factor is obesity. Beyond that, they are mostly in the dark.

Worse still, the standard treatment for type 2 diabetes in children is ineffective because metaformin – a drug which is effective in adults, has a high failure rate among children.

When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, more exercise and a healthier diet are key but doctors know young peoples’ habits are tough to change.

Which is why SRxA’s Word on Health was interested to learn of the “Dance for Health” program being pioneered by Professor Terri Lipman, a nurse practitioner and professor of pediatric nursing at the University of Pennslvania.  Dance for Health encourages children and adults to ward off the disease and hip-hop their way to good health.

Penn Nursing has partnered with Philadelphia’s Sayre High School and the Bernett Johnson Sayre Health Center to assess and improve physical activity among school-aged children, with the goal of lowering the risk for obesity.

Busting cool moves across a wooden gym floor, the Sayre High School dance team led children through one hour of dancing weekly for one month. Using pedometers, the research team found that the students averaged twice as many steps on days they danced.

At the same time, researchers noted that the children had elevated resting heart rates after exercise, indicating that they were not physically fit. Dance for Health aims to change that.

Dancing is not only free, culturally relevant, and fun,” says Dr. Lipman, “it is also an easily accessible way for children to lead a more active lifestyle. Through this program, we aim to promote to schools and healthcare providers the benefits of incorporating dance into children’s lives to improve their overall health.”

The partnership between Penn Nursing and Sayre High School has yielded other benefits. Dr. Lipman now hosts weekly evening dance classes for children and adults ages 5 to 91!

At the same time, they are educating the neighboring community, demographically at high risk for diabetes, about prevention through good nutrition, exercise, and recognition of warning signs. In addition to taking basic measurements such as weight, height, and waist circumference, the students also check for acanthosis nigricans, a darkening of the skin associated with obesity and diabetes.

Our partnership with Sayre has opened the door to a strong relationship with residents of the community around Penn,” says Dr. Lipman. “It has allowed us to work with individuals, schools, and community groups to fight diabetes together.”

Do you know of any similar initiatives?  Ballroom Dance for bulimics?!? Samba for stroke?!? Share your stories with us.