Guilford County’s health department has had diabetes in its sights for years as a major public health threat, but now the department is implementing a new program meant to target diabetes in local minority communities.

The county, with the help of federal grant money, is aiming to prevent and treat diabetes among minority populations, which health officials say are at a greater risk of the problems from the disease than the general population.

Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said this latest effort is important because it’s meant to help a segment of society that fares poorly against diabetes.

“The big word here is health equity,” Green said. “When we look at the statistics, minority populations have worse outcomes for a number of diseases.”

Green said that was true not only for diabetes but also for other health issues such as high blood pressure and breast cancer.

“Minority populations die at a higher rate,” she said, adding that diabetes was one disease where the disparity is prevalent.

According to Green, studies show that diabetes surprisingly hits minorities harder even when variables such as access to insurance, medical care and prescription drugs are controlled.

She said data shows that minorities with diabetes have more amputations, take more sick days and get more hospitalizations due to the disease.

She said a secondary benefit of the new program is that the health department will collect data on diabetes in minority communities in Guilford County and that new information may be useful in examining why diabetes has a greater negative effect on minorities.

Guilford County is entering into an interlocal agreement with Alamance County, which will administer the federal grant for a nine-county region in central North Carolina. The region is receiving $230,000 for the program. The new agreement will be in effect until May 31, 2019, but the program may become an ongoing one depending on the availability of federal funding for the same program in the future.

The new administrative agreement calls for Guilford County to “implement a pre-diabetes awareness and marketing campaign in minority communities” as well as to “provide community screening for pre-diabetes and referrals to diabetes prevention lifestyle classes and diabetes self-management programs.”

It also calls for Guilford County to offer ”lifestyle classes” and include equivalent Spanish-language instruction.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve the move on Thursday, Sept. 20, when that board meets.

Guilford County District 8 Commissioner Skip Alston, who represents a large minority population in east Greensboro, said he’s pleased to see the federal government and the county’s health department addressing the diabetes problem with a focus on the minority population.

“I think they are being proactive rather than reactive,” Alston said of Green and the health department.

He said he’s glad to see the new focus on minority communities, where diabetes is a major problem, and he would like to see the county do more of this type of thing in the future.

“I think they are doing OK – but there’s always a chance to do more,” Alston said.

Green said Guilford County has data on file that will help them target those zip codes and neighborhoods that may be most vulnerable to diabetes.

“We’ll provide educational sessions and medical information for people that are pre-diabetic,” Green said.

She said the program will include monitoring of diet, exercise and the blood sugar levels of participants and it will also look at associated medical conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Green said there’s no clear consensus on why diabetes hits minority populations harder than others. She said there are a number of theories but the new data collected in the nine-county area could help answer some of the questions.

“Some theories why minorities are hit harder are a history of oppression, more life stress, past [negative] experiences with the health care system or a lack of trust of it,” Green said.

The new program will also increase awareness of diabetes and its symptoms in minority areas. She said that some of the warning signs are increased thirst and hunger for no apparent reason and more frequent urination.

Green added that the county more and more is undertaking regional efforts of this sort. She said health services and hospitals are increasingly serving regions, rather than just a particular city or county, and it therefore makes sense for county health departments to do so as well.