Churches and Communities in Columbia, South Carolina Are Working Together to Fight Diabetes Epidemic

Verna Laboy’s paternal grandmother lost both legs to diabetes complications. Very recently, one of her cousins lost a leg — also to diabetes. Yet another cousin is on dialysis, a complication of the same disease.

“This is personal for me,” she says.

She doesn’t pretend to be an expert — that’s not where the passion comes from. She, herself, was “on the fast track” to diabetes and has found it hard to stick with an exercise or diet.

All of that has made Laboy a passionate force behind Live Well By Faith, a wellness program launched one year ago through the Columbia/Boone County Health and Human Services Department for black churches in Boone County.

Data from a county-wide survey in 2013 showed that of the 9,300 people living with diabetes in Boone County, black people were four times more likely to die from complications related to the disease than their white counterparts. Nationally, black women are just under two times more likely than white women to die from diabetes complications, while black men are about one and a half times more likely than white men to die from diabetes complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health disparity is a national problem. Approximately 29 million people in the United States live with diabetes, according to the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services. Studies have shown that the engagement of church leaders fosters trust and improves success in addressing health disparities.

Type 2 diabetes — the more common form of the chronic disease — occurs when the level of blood glucose (sugar) in a person’s body is higher than normal because insulin ceases to be produced properly, according to the American Diabetes Association. As a result, the body’s cells are starved for energy and the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart can be effected. Factors associated with diabetes include obesity, a family history of the disease and race and ethnicity.

Living Well By Faith

Laboy, a self-proclaimed “health evangelist” and community activist, has been working with black churchgoers since April 2016 to educate people about the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles, to encourage healthy eating and to provide programs for long-term success in health management.

“Food is important to this culture, and it’s cooked the wrong way. It’s a lethal digestion,” Laboy said. “It’s an addiction that needs to be addressed, a very unhealthy addiction. We need to increase our health literacy.”

Laboy uses the word “bulldozer” to describe how she’s paving the way towards bringing down the rates of diabetes and heart disease among blacks in Boone County.

“I don’t have a health background. I’m not a personal trainer. I’m not a nutritionist,” she said.

Her own struggle to change her lifestyle has been a source of insight.

“But I’ve been on this journey for years, unable to stay consistent,” she said.

She and other “health ministers” at the Live Well By Faith-accredited churches are “looking for people that are dealing with the challenges themselves to adopt (healthy) behaviors and see the changes and take people on the journey with them,” she said.

Laboy enthusiastically and passionately evangelizes on a healthy lifestyle.

“Verna’s not doing the work,” she said, slipping into third person, as she often does. “You have to do the work. This is your church. This is your congregation. This is your family. This is your life.”

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Source: Columbia Missourian |