Grant allows expansion of program to increase focus on Type 2 diabetes intervention

August 17, 2020
Two kids run through an outdoor garden
The Boeing Center for Children's Wellness teaches kids about all aspects of nutrition. Thanks to a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation, diabetes prevention will now be a part of that program. Photo by Sarah Pack

In this odd and uncertain era of COVID-19, it’s often easy for other health concerns to be overlooked. But Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina (BCBSSC) and the BCBSSC Foundation have joined forces to make sure one of those areas of concern, Type 2 diabetes, isn’t among them. 

Recently, they announced that they will be joining together with several organizations well-established in the trenches of diabetes care, including the Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina and the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, to launch Diabetes Free SC (DFSC), a long-term, multi-million dollar statewide initiative dedicated to addressing disparities in care. Specifically, they will focus on improved pregnancy outcomes in women with Type 2 diabetes, reduced lifelong risk of Type 2 diabetes in children and the prevention of Type 2 diabetes and its complications in adults. 

One of the main beneficiaries of these grants is the Medical University of South Carolina and its Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness (BCCW), led by MUSC pediatrician Janice Key, M.D. Key and her program will use the grant to expand the Docs Adopt School Health program, which focuses on nutrition, physical activity, employee wellness and social and emotional learning.

“Type 2 diabetes is an extremely expensive and life-altering disease. The best way to prevent it is to go way upstream to childhood. If done right, we can help set up lifelong habits that will lead to healthier adults. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina is investing in a long-term idea, and it’s so incredibly exciting to have their support,” Key said. 

For almost a decade, Key and her team have been operating the BCCW, and its Docs Adopt program has been implemented in almost 200 schools across the state for roughly 134,000 kids. The initiative educates students and teachers about wellness and nutrition and then motivates them to make wellness changes in seven categories through a fun competition between schools. There are monetary rewards for the schools that do the best, which tend to really motivate the teachers and the kids. 

“Our hypothesis is that healthy kids are better students,” Key said. “Our data shows that the schools that participate have a higher attendance rate and a lower suspension rate, not to mention a higher graduation rate. That’s pretty thrilling. To see that it’s actually working, I can’t tell you how thrilling that is.”

Adding Type 2 diabetes prevention into the mix will only help to strengthen the program, Key said.

Five students sit around a table in a classroom 
Students at a BCCW-participating school discuss the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition. The program motivates schools by providing incentives to the ones that show the most improvement over the course of the school year. Photo provided

The grant will support additional coordinators and monetary awards necessary to expand into eight additional school districts (thus serving a total of 21 of the 85 districts in state) and will add a biostatistician to improve the rigor and consistency of data collection and analysis. The funding is hoped to allow the initiative to reach an additional 21,000 children and 3,000 teachers.

According to Timothy Lyons, M.D., Blue Cross’ executive medical director for DFSC and an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at MUSC, the effort is an ambitious undertaking, but one that has enormous quality of life implications and profound economic consequences for health care expenditures in our state. 

That’s because, according to the American Diabetes Association, more than 500,000 adults in the state have diagnosed diabetes while an additional 120,000 are unaware that they have the disease. Another 26,000 people in South Carolina will be diagnosed this year. 

“At Diabetes Free SC, a new initiative of Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina Foundation, we are honored to provide this grant funding to Dr. Key and her team at MUSC,” Lyons said. “The overall mission of Diabetes Free SC is to align actions against diabetes for all citizens of South Carolina, and as one part of this effort, we aim to reduce the risk of future Type 2 diabetes in children. The MUSC program will play a central role in promoting healthy lifestyles for the state’s schoolchildren. Dr. Key and her group at the MUSC Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness have done significant and far-reaching work in the past, and this new funding will enable them to expand their program to reach a much larger number of school districts, schools and schoolchildren. Through this, MUSC will bring us one step closer to eliminating health disparities in Type 2 diabetes care in South Carolina.”