More than 100 Valley children with diabetes or at risk for diabetes attended the second annual American Diabetes Association Youth Retreat held in the Wellness and Recreation Sports Complex (WRSC) at The University of Texas-Pan American Aug. 6.
At the event, sponsored by the UTPA Border Health Office, WRSC, American Diabetes Association, H-E-B and the Boys and Girls Club, children discovered relationships with other kids living with diabetes and learned lessons on positive diabetes management.
The retreat was aimed to educate children between the ages of 8-14 on the importance of staying physically fit and eating the appropriate foods to live a healthy lifestyle. In addition, the event promoted self-confidence, independence and peer support, along with indoor and outdoor fun.
"We just want children and their parents to be aware of the importance of managing diabetes and making sure that they take care of themselves as well as their families," said Cynthia Mora, health education coordinator with the UT System Texas-Mexico Border Health Coordination Office (TMBHCO). "It's important to have an overall perspective of diabetes."
At the retreat, children participated in activities such as stretch and warm-ups and H-E-B football challenge with HEBuddy and Wane McGarity, former wide receiver for the University of Texas Longhorns, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints. The event also included rock wall climbing, a kids nutrition workshop, basketball challenges, arts and crafts and a class and game show competition to promote diabetes knowledge. Children also received backpacks from H-E-B filled with healthy snacks and school supplies.
To ensure safety for the children, local physicians and nurses with expertise on diabetes were on hand for round- the-clock medical supervision. Counselors with diabetes were also present to serve as strong role models. Nutrition activities, blood glucose monitoring, injections and medication were also integrated into the program.
"I want the children to leave not just bombarded with information, but with a smile knowing that even though they have diabetes, they can live a healthy, happy life," said Maritza Jimenez, health education coordinator for TMBHCO. "We want them to start now."
Mora said walking at least 30 minutes to an hour a day and changing how you eat, by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet are two smart ways of controlling diabetes and living a healthy life. She also suggested that involving everybody in the family makes the process easier and adds for more quality time.
"We're really prevalent in getting diabetes here in the Rio Grande Valley and it is also the number four cause of death in Texas," Jimenez said. "It's sad that our young ones are getting it, but hopefully we can alleviate that and decrease the numbers."
Children at the retreat said they had a good time and learned a lot about healthy habits. Donnie Powers, 11, said he had fun with his friends at the retreat and learned valuable lessons.
"I learned that diabetes isn't fun to have, but I already exercise, eat lots of fruit and cut back on my sugars," Powers said. "I hope I don't get it."
Amanda Longoria, 11, said she hopes to stay healthy by following the lessons she learned during the event.
"I had fun at the retreat with my cousins and friends, but I also learned how to be healthy," Longoria said. "I've learned how not to eat too much sugar, add fruits and vegetables to what I eat and have a balanced diet."
Longoria said she already eats apples, bananas, peaches and grapes and jogs with her dad every day. She said she'd share what she learned with her family. She also has valuable advice for a friend.
"My mom has a friend whose son has diabetes and I feel bad for him, but I learned that he can live a good life too, just like us," Amanda said. "I want him to not back down on anything just because he has diabetes. He can still do anything he wants."
The TMBHCO offers ways to collaborate with community-based organizations to promote health services and education, provide technical assistance to communities and institutions and to sponsor health education efforts including conferences and workshops.
ADA's mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. The youth retreat was free to all children thanks to sponsors and donors who covered the $75 attendance fee.
For more information, contact TMBHCO at (956) 665-8900.