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LAURA GRUESER: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Laura Grueser loves cooking and sharing food, a key part of Appalachian culture, but she was surprised to find out how little her diabetes patients knew about eating right.
Laura is the lead community health worker in Meigs County, Ohio. Diagnosed with pre-diabetic about eight years ago, she admits, “I didn’t really understand really what the big deal was.” But she read up on diabetes and decided to be an example to her clients by living a healthier lifestyle and controlling her blood sugar levels. She was so successful that now, she says, “I’m able to say to my patients, ‘You really can do something about controlling your own diabetes.’” She travels around this rural Appalachian county working with clients, many of whom are Type 2 diabetic, elderly, and low income.
Most shocking to her, she says, was how little education her clients and neighbors had in healthy eating. “This is a heavily diabetic area, and one of the reasons that surprised me was because of lack of nutritional food.” Even though they often had gardens, they didn’t eat enough fresh vegetables and fruits, or know about getting rid of junk foods.
Portion sizes are also a problem: “When we go to a restaurant, we get our food on a platter rather than on a little plate. Whether you're the poorest of the poor, here in our county, or the richest of the rich, we are not used to measuring our food. It's true! And that's why I say we live in a supersize world.”
Laura feels she is making a difference in people’s lives, and often laughs as she talks, fondly, about her work. “In our little rural community here, when people are given that Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, I have found that there is a sense of hopelessness. ‘Well, I'm done now. I might as well just give it up. I'll eat whatever I want because dad had it and he died from it,’ that type of thing.” Her solution: respect her patients, work closely with them, and show them how much control they actually have.