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African American Health Program: Bringing People Together to Share, Support and Learn

Nutritionist Linda Goldsholl discusses the Diabetes Dining Club

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Did you know that 4.9 million, or 18.7 percent of all African Americans age 20 years or older live with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association? African Americans are also 1.8 times more likely to live with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. With these statistics in mind, and a desire to support Black History Month, this week we are featuring diabetes programs and resources that serve the African American community.

One such organization is the Montgomery County, Maryland Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Recognizing the need for specialized health services for the African American community, the DHHS formed the African American Health Program (AAHP) in 1999. The program is administered by BETAH and Associates, Inc.

As a part of the AAHP, the County offers a monthly Diabetes Dining Club, run by nutritionist Linda Goldsholl. The program functions as an educational support group, beginning with a catered meal and a presentation about the food preparation by the caterer. The meal is followed by a learning session related to diabetes or nutrition and a physical activity, led by a physical fitness instructor.

Linda Goldsholl of African American Health Program
Linda Goldsholl of African American Health Program

“Our dining clubs are very popular,” Linda said. “Many of our members have been coming since the first one got started in 2004. Then we added two more clubs within two years. This past March we turned one into an African immigrant dining club where we focus more on the special challenges and issues of African immigrants and work with their cultural foods.”

Linda tracks the success of the Dining Club program in part by weight. “We take their weight in March and then at the end of the calendar year,” she explained. “When I compare their current weight to their initial weight coming into the club, the average weight is two pounds lighter. Even if we had weight maintenance, I would be happy. Our club members are a little bit lighter. I believe that’s a measure of success.”

The County also offers a Diabetes Education Program, which Linda started in 2004. “I started seeing the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, so I developed a program to address the need,” she said. “I teach a series of three-hour diabetes self-management training sessions over the course of four weeks. We got our accreditation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators in 2010, and recently completed our 89th group of classes.”

Unfortunately, the education program struggles with attendance. “In any given year we average about 125 participants,” Linda said. “I’m really starting to feel that, as a public health program, we need to get the information out to many, many more people.”

Linda believes it’s an issue of time. “I’d like to reach the age bracket that is young enough to have children still in the family home, so we can work with them to make changes that will affect the children’s health as well. But I see how busy people are. They’re working, they’re trying to keep up with the kids and their own personal health often comes last. As it is, we get more of the 55 and older crowd, because their schedule is a little more flexible.”

To address this issue, Linda has some changes in mind. “This year I’m going to try offering some two-hour classes as stand-alone programs,” she said. “I’m thinking of this as ‘diabetes tidbits.’ I want to give people the ‘need-to-know’ information in terms of carb counting and how carbs influence your blood sugar and the benefits of physical activity. Basically I’ll give them topics that are beneficial for them to know, but that they have to get more information on, so hopefully that will encourage them to take the full series of training classes.”

I love the idea of the Dining Club. Gathering members of the community together to learn and share resources in a fun and social setting is a terrific approach. My thanks to Linda for sharing the details of her programs. She should be very proud of the valuable work she is doing serving the African American community in Maryland.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Linda Goldsholl received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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