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Students at Pope School learned about diabetes last week when Janie Cole, a registered dietitian, visited their classroom. Cole works with the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi, and regularly meets with about 800 students in the South Panola and Quitman County school districts. The Panolian photo by Rita Howell
 
Cole’s goal is making the Delta a healthier place

By Rita Howell

With almost evangelical fervor, Janie Cole preaches her message of healthy and smart eating to students in classrooms across the South Panola School District. A registered dietitian, Cole works with a program that is targeting kids in Panola and Quitman Counties to help them reverse the area’s trend toward obesity and the high rate of diabetes that plagues the Mississippi Delta.

Cole is an education and training specialist with the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi, and regularly meets with about 800 students in the South Panola and Quitman County school districts. She conducts classroom lessons on nutrition and exercise through a program called “Eating Good and Moving Like We Should,” funded through a grant from the Delta Health Alliance. The program targets students in fifth through eighth grades.

Last week at Pope School she lectured a class of seventh and eighth grade girls on diabetes.

“Mississippi leads the nation in diabetes,” Cole said. “The Delta leads the state. We want to make the Delta a healthier place.”

Type I diabetes, she told the girls, is juvenile diabetes, named because it usually shows up in people under age 25. With this disease, the body produces little or no insulin, the hormone that helps the body absorb sugar and turn it into energy.

People with Type I diabetes take insulin injections, she told the group.

The other kind of diabetes, Type II, is preventable. Cole wants these kids to make smart choices now so they’ll skip the consequences of that disease.

It’s not excessive sugar consumption that causes Type II diabetes, as many people mistakenly think, she told the girls.

It’s diets high in fat and lifestyles lacking exercise.

In Type II diabetes the pancreas makes insulin but the body ignores it, meaning the insulin doesn’t get where it needs to go so cells can convert sugar to energy, she explained.

One way to help trigger the bodyís absorption of insulin (in Type II diabetes) is by exercising, she said.

By increasing their exercise and decreasing their fat consumption, people can reduce their chances of developing Type II diabetes.

Vegetable oils, like canola (“rhymes with Panola”), are a healthier choice than animal fats, she explained.

Diets lower in fat and higher in fiber and whole grains lead to healthier bodies that are less likely to end up with diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes, she told the class, are increased thirst, increased urination and tiredness.

“Many people have diabetes but don’t realize it,” she said.

Since the program began last fall, Cole’s lessons have included general nutrition topics like the “My Pyramid” healthy eating plan. She also talks on healthy weight, allergies, reading food labels, and “healthy eating on the run.”

She is available for one-on-one consultation with students (and their parents) who have special nutrition needs.

In addition to instruction geared for youngsters, Cole provides in-service nutrition programs for school faculty and staff.

There are no bad foods, she tells her classes, confessing that she likes Reese’s and Payday candy bars as occasional treats.

“Everything in moderation,” she says.


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