Keeping Healthy is a Family Affair

By Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE

Portrait Of Three Generation Family On Beach Holiday

You and your family can work together to create a road map to lower your risks for diabetes, health disease and other health problems.

First, the not-so-good news: Type 2 diabetes runs in families. This means that if you have diabetes, your children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters are all at risk. Now, here is the good news: As the National Diabetes Education Program points out, you can’t change your genes, but you can change your future— and you can help your family members change their futures as well.


A large study was done several years ago called The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). The study looked at over 3,000 people with higher than normal blood glucose levels. While their levels were not high enough to cause them to be diagnosed with diabetes, they did show that those people had a condition called prediabetes. Almost half of the people in the study were members of racial groups with high rates of type 2 diabetes: African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and American Indians.

The study also included other groups of people at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, such as people aged 60 and over, women with a history of diabetes during pregnancy, and people with a parent, sibling or other relative with type 2 diabetes.

The goal of the study was to see what people can do to help prevent the onset of diabetes.  Of the people who took part in the study, one group reduced its risk for getting Type 2 diabetes by 58%. On average, this group exercised a total of 30 minutes per day, usually by walking or another moderate activity.  They also lost 5% to 7% of their body weight, an average of 15 pounds.

Getting more active and losing weight helped all age and ethnic groups, but it was especially helpful for the elder group. They reduced their risk for diabetes by 71% with these lifestyle changes.

Another way to prevent diabetes is with medication. A different group that took part in the study was given metformin, a pill that is used to treat diabetes. People in the group that took metformin reduced their risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by about one-third. This medicine worked better in people who were younger and very overweight.


  1. Understand the risks.

Your family members need to know that you have diabetes so they can understand their own risk for diabetes. Although it is tempting not to tell them so that you can keep them from worrying, they need to know so that they can take their risk seriously. Some people use the chance to tell family members as a way to start talking about what they are doing to take care of their diabetes. Let them know that you are telling them about your condition because you care about them and want to help them be healthier. We know that people with diabetes are better able to manage their condition and their feelings about it when they have the love, support and understanding of their family and friends.

  1.  Make a plan.

Ask your family members to help you make a plan for managing your diabetes. Then talk about how you can help them to take steps to eat healthier and be more active. This way, you are both supporting each other in having healthy lifestyle plans. For example, you may talk about how to have healthier choices on the menu when you all get together for a meal.  If you live close to one another, you may decide to walk or do other kinds of exercise together. Knowing that you are all working toward a common goal can bring your family closer.  Supporting each other helps everyone to succeed.

  1. Include your children.

Include children and grandchildren in your planning. The number of young people with type 2 diabetes is growing rapidly. Together, come up with a plan to keep them active and at a healthy weight.  Turning off the TV, iPad, computer and cell phone and taking a walk or going to the park are good ways to connect and be active at the same time.

  1. Community involvement.

Think about ways you can involve your community, place of worship or school in diabetes prevention efforts. Support groups, walking clubs and community gardens are great ways to bring the neighborhood together.  Encouraging healthier choices in the school cafeteria and other events where food is served will help everyone.

Managing diabetes is not always easy but it is worth the effort.  The same is true for lowering your risk for diabetes. Making a plan and providing and receiving support can help every person to be more successful.

Type 2 diabetes tends to run in families.  Despite what you may have heard, diabetes does not “skip a generation.” You are more likely to get diabetes if your father or mother had it.


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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

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