Photo of food groups for proper nutrition
Regular exercise and proper nutrition can help improve your health.

With more than a million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in the United States every year, it is no surprise that it is being called a public health epidemic. This disease, which affects the body's ability to manage glucose (blood sugar), was once viewed as mainly occurring among the elderly. In recent years, however, the incidence of diabetes has risen dramatically among other age groups, especially individuals in their 30s. Physicians are even encountering what was once referred to as "adult-onset" diabetes in children.

While the exact causes of diabetes remain unknown, the disease is closely tied to obesity and research indicates that modern American lifestyles and eating habits share some of the blame for the rise in diabetes, especially among the younger generation. To fight this troubling trend, several programs are available for UC Davis Health System patients to help people learn how to modify their daily lives and live successfully with diabetes and other chronic disease.

"Small steps can lead to big improvements in health. Chronic disease management programs are a great way to learn about eating and exercise and about setting achievable goals."
— Parul Patel, family practice physician at the Elk Grove UC Davis Medical Group.

One example of this effort is "In Charge and In Control," a four-week series of classes that teach patients everything from nutrition and exercise to self-management strategies for monitoring glucose levels.

"There is a very clear correlation between lack of exercise, excess weight and the prevalence of diabetes," said Parul Patel, a family practice physician at the UC Davis Medical Group office in Elk Grove. "A great way to control this disease is to control your diet and overall health. Gaining knowledge and understanding is an important step toward living well."

The "Take Charge" program  is just one of several designed specifically to help health system patients manage chronic illnesses such as heart failure, asthma, lung disease and hypertension. It features a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurse educators and dietitians who recognize that patients make numerous daily decisions that can affect their health. Patients who've taken the diabetes management course say it provides both the information and support needed to make good and healthy choices.

"Small steps can lead to big improvements in health. Chronic disease management programs complement my role as a physician by reinforcing healthy habits like nutrition and exercise and helping patients set achievable goals," added Patel. "Being able to provide someone with the right tools to control their illness is a key part of my philosophy of care."

Studies show efforts such as "In Charge and In Control" improve patient outcomes and can reduce costs for a variety of chronic diseases, including asthma, congestive heart failure and arthritis, as well as diabetes. One study found that patients who attended a multi-week self-management program had fewer hospitalizations over a six-month period than patients who had not. They also had fewer emergency room and clinic visits. No matter what the age, health experts say lifestyle changes such as exercise, a healthy diet and reducing stress levels, are among the best ways to live with diabetes and prevent it from growing worse.

The medical group office in Elk Grove is one of several primary care clinics hosting the special diabetes classes in November for UC Davis patients. For more information about diabetes-related programs such as "In Charge and In Control," visit the UC Davis Health System Web site at For information about other chronic disease and wellness programs, visit our health consumer Web pages