The Peabody Launches Diabetes Prevention Program

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

Chances are if you live in Memphis, you know someone with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

(Daily News File/Brandon Dill)

More than one third of Memphians have pre-diabetes and one in 10 is living with full-blown diabetes.

The disease costs Tennessee an estimated $5.1 billion annually, including $3.62 billion in medical expenses and $1.48 billion in reduced productivity and premature mortality, according to a city of Memphis proclamation on diabetes prevention issued by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

As more local employers recognize the true labor costs of chronic diseases like diabetes, some, including The Peabody hotel, are rolling out prevention and control programs.

On Friday, July 26, the storied hotel partnered with UnitedHealthcare, the YMCA and the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance to kick off a Diabetes Prevention Program for the hotel’s 500 employees.

Throughout the day, hotel employees dropped by the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance’s “Tell Diabetes NOT ME” national mobile tour to have their fingers pricked to screen employees’ risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, educate them about the disease and to help high-risk employees enroll in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention program.

“We have about 500 associates, and a lot of those associates are more of an aging workforce,” said Lisa McNutt, director of human resources at The Peabody hotel. “We’ve already seen in some of our younger associates the effects of diabetes. We even have employees in their early 40s who are on full disability and unable to work anymore.”

McNutt said employees at risk of developing full-blown diabetes will be eligible to enroll in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, a 12-month course aimed at encouraging positive lifestyle changes like healthy eating and increased physical activity with 16 weekly sessions and eight monthly follow-up sessions. The program is free for any employee who has opted for health care coverage through UnitedHealthcare.

National research shows lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing full-blown Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

Most diabetes developed in adulthood is Type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body does not use insulin properly. The disease is more common in people with a family history of diabetes and in African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Pacific Islanders. People with pre-diabetes are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Both conditions are the major causes of stroke, kidney failure, renal failure and other diseases that are the main killers in Memphis and the Mid-South.

“We are really trying to make an effort to be more preventative,” McNutt said, while explaining that the hotel is coupling the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program with internal efforts like counseling employees on healthy eating choices and offering some of the hotel’s wellness programs to employees.

“Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic sweeping our communities and yet it’s preventable,” Wharton said. “Through education and awareness, we can fight back against this disease.”

Nationwide, there are nearly 27 million adults with diabetes – 90 percent or more of them with Type 2 diabetes, and another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes.

“Diabetes is an epidemic in Tennessee and throughout the nation,” said Gregory Reidy, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual of Tennessee.

McNutt said the historic Downtown hotel wants to be known for its Four Star, gracious Southern hospitality.

“If our associates aren’t healthy, it’s hard to produce that,” she said. “They can’t project that message if they aren’t feeling well.”