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ARTICLE Tell Diabetes "Not Me" This Winter and Holiday Season

MINNETONKA, Minn. (Nov. 9, 2011) – The holiday season conjures up happy images of family gatherings and first snowfalls, but the cold weather and winter festivities can bring special challenges to people living with diabetes or those at risk of getting type 2 diabetes.


With the festive period fast approaching, UnitedHealth Group's Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA) offers the nearly 26 million Americans living with the illness – and the 79 million with prediabetes who are at gravest risk of developing it – ways to say "NOT ME"™ to diabetes during the holidays.


Apart from the challenges of negotiating the holidays themselves, certain parts of the country also experience difficult extended winters that can discourage people from exercising, which could lead to weight gain and a slowdown in metabolism.


"The winter holidays bring family and friends together to celebrate, but for some this time of the year also means a decrease in physical activity, more tempting foods high in calories and carbohydrates, and a resulting weight gain, all of which can make blood sugar more difficult to manage," says Deneen Vojta, M.D., executive vice president and chief clinical officer of the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance. "Fortunately, people with diabetes and prediabetes can take steps to head off over-indulgence, under-exercise and sugar levels 'running a bit high' during cold weather and festivities, and avoid certain health problems."


Here are 10 simple ways Dr. Vojta and the DPCA say people can tell diabetes "NOT ME" this winter and enjoy the season without risking their health:


  1. Keep yourself and your gear warm – Dress appropriately for the cold weather, which means wearing layers and keeping your head and extremities covered. Also be sure to keep your blood glucose meter, medications, and other diabetes supplies insulated and well-protected.
  2. Avoid winter weight gain – Many tempting, traditional holiday foods are loaded with carbohydrates, which can cause blood sugar levels to spike. The cold also can discourage people from exercising or participating in outdoor sports, all of which can contribute to significant weight gain. Watch your caloric intake, look for holiday treats that are lighter in sugar and carbohydrates, and make sure to keep exercising during the winter months (even if that means doing seated stretching exercises at your desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, making regular laps around the office, school, or mall, etc.).
  3. Don't get cold feet – It is important for people with diabetes – and especially people with neuropathy – to keep their toes covered and warm in the cold weather. Avoid hot water bottles or electric blankets, and wear several pairs of loose-fitting socks and slippers instead.
  4. Get vaccinated – Studies have shown that people with diabetes are three-times as likely to die from influenza or pneumonia, and five-times more likely to be hospitalized due to flu complications. So be sure to get vaccinated at the very start of the cold and flu season.
  5. Wash your hands – Another good way to avoid getting colds or respiratory viruses over the holidays is to wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap and/or an antibacterial product.
  6. Eat thoughtfully and be merry, but watch the drink – Alcoholic beverages dilate blood vessels and accelerate the loss of body heat. Alcohol can also mask the signs of low blood sugar, which can be dangerous for people with diabetes. So be mindful of alcohol intake, especially at office holiday parties and family gatherings.
  7. Seek counseling if you're feeling blue – Several studies suggest a correlation between diabetes and depression, with rates of depression increasing as diabetes complications worsen. Depression also is known to spike each year around holiday time. If you're feeling low, sluggish, devoid of energy, or sad, do not be afraid to reach out for help.
  8. Check in on the elderly – Seniors are even more susceptible to the effects of the cold due to a reduced ability to control body temperature and a decrease of subcutaneous fat. If you know an elderly person who lives alone that suffers from diabetes and/or other chronic illnesses, give that person the best seasonal gift of all – check in on him or her regularly during the holidays.
  9. Stay hydrated – Alternating exposure to outdoor cold weather with indoor heating systems is a recipe for dehydration, which can raise blood glucose levels and cause dry skin and eyes. Drink lots of water and liberally apply alcohol-free moisturizing lotion throughout the winter months.
  10. Strive for a stress-free season – Stress has been shown to affect blood sugar levels, so try to make your holiday season a little less hectic. That can mean making sure you're not overextending yourself and keeping your social schedule and shopping lists manageable.

These tips can help people with diabetes and prediabetes stay healthy this winter; however, national data suggest that more than 27 percent of adults with type 2 diabetes and more than 90 percent of individuals with prediabetes may not even be aware of their condition. To learn the warning signs of prediabetes and assess one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes, visit the DPCA's interactive self-identification quiz.


"NOT ME," from the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance (DPCA), is an employer- and community-based initiative aimed at tipping the scales against the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and obesity. DPCA was launched last year through a partnership with UnitedHealth Group, the YMCA and Walgreens, and has since expanded to include Albertsons, Kroger, Novo Nordisk, Rite Aid and Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings subsidiary Home Healthcare Laboratory of America.


The two core programs, which are available at no out-of-pocket cost to participants enrolled in employer-provided health insurance plans through UnitedHealthcare and Medica, are the DPCA's Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) and the Diabetes Control Program (DCP).


The DPCA programs are based on studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other federal agencies. These studies involved the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, which includes researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine and faculty and researchers from numerous medical schools and research centers around the United States.


These signature programs are now available in 46 markets in 23 states, including: Alabama; Arizona; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Idaho; Indiana; Iowa; Kentucky; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New Jersey, New Mexico; New York; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; Texas; Washington; Wisconsin; as well as Washington, D.C. The DPCA programs will continue to roll out in additional locations across the country through 2012.


About UnitedHealth Group
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health and well-being company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making health care work better. With headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. Through its businesses, UnitedHealth Group serves more than 75 million people worldwide.