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June 20, 2006 > Diabetes Educator Brings Humor to Serious Issue

Diabetes Educator Brings Humor to Serious Issue

Diabetes is a very serious subject. The chronic disease that affects more than 20 million Americans must be managed daily and the risks associated with diabetes include heart disease, stroke and blindness. So why does the director of Diabetes Services at Washington Hospital want to make people laugh about it?

“What’s funny about diabetes? Nothing. That’s why it’s important to inject humor,” said Theresa Garnero, who was named 2004-2005 National Diabetes Educator of the Year by the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “Because it is so serious, people often shut down when they’re diagnosed and humor helps turn that around. Besides, laughter is good medicine.”

The registered nurse and diabetes educator is also an internationally published cartoonist. She has authored and illustrated an award-winning educational diabetes book filled with cartoons. The 60-page book “DIABETease: A lighter look at the serious subject of diabetes” provides tips on controlling the disease in an easy-to-read, humorous format.

“My book is filled with educational cartoons featuring ethnically diverse characters because diabetes affects all races. In fact, African Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders and American Indians are at particularly high risk for diabetes,” said Garnero. “Cartoons are a way to communicate complex messages in a positive yet simple and entertaining format.”

Laughter has actually been shown to reduce sugar levels, improve immune function, reduce stress, release endorphins, improve learning and communication, and reduce pain, according to Garnero.

With diabetes, the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that helps convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy needed for daily life.

Type 1 diabetes results from the body’s failure to produce insulin and accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases of the disease. People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin into their bodies to survive.

The more common form is type 2 diabetes, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases. It usually begins as insulin resistance, which occurs when the cells do not use insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the body often loses its ability to produce it.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, physical inactivity and race/ethnicity. According to Garnero, type 2 diabetes rates among those ages 30 to 39 increased 70 percent over the last decade and while still rare among children, type 2 diabetes is growing among our youth as obesity rises.

Diabetes is Pandemic

“We have not even seen the crest of this pandemic wave that has already begun to hit us locally and globally. The floodgates haven’t even opened yet. We have a tsunami on our hands and very few are paying attention,” said Garnero, who is trying to make a difference for people with diabetes. She writes about the disease for a variety of diabetes publications and websites and is concerned about the trend we are seeing today in this country.

“We’re eating more and moving less,” Garnero said. “We sit in front of the TV or computer for hours on end, exercise programs have been cut out of schools, most kids don’t walk to school anymore, and portion sizes have increased dramatically.”

A major study called the Diabetes Prevention Program found that 58 percent of people at risk of developing diabetes could prevent it by eating less fat and fewer calories, exercising 20 to 30 minutes a day, and losing 7 percent of body fat.

“It’s all the things we should all be doing – eating right, moving our bodies and keeping our weight down,” Garnero said. “For those with diabetes, these factors are critical to controlling the disease and avoiding some serious and even deadly complications.”

She coordinates and teaches a six-week diabetes self-management class at Washington Hospital that provides an overview of diabetes as well as specific ways to reduce the complications and health risks associated with it. Participants learn about blood glucose (sugar) monitoring and the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices to keep diabetes under control from a panel of health experts. They also receive a copy of the DIABETease cartoon book.

“The problem is half of those diagnosed with diabetes don’t receive diabetes education,” Garnero said. “Education is critical because you can live a quality life with diabetes and avoid serious complications by making a few healthy choices.”

The next six-week Group Course in Daily Self-Management is scheduled to begin Thursday, September 14, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. To register – which is required to attend – please call (800) 963-7070.

You can find the book, “DIABETease: A lighter look at the serious subject of diabetes” at Washington Hospital’s Community Health Resource Library. Located on the first floor of Washington West (2500 Mowry Avenue), the library issues membership cards to anyone who wants to check out books, DVDs and tapes or download medical articles through the library’s subscription service.

For more information about other programs and services offered by Washington Hospital, visit

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