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Conversations with the Director:Ann Albright

December 20, 2012

Ann Albright

Helping People Discover What Prevention Strategies Work Best for Them:A Conversation with Ann Albright of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation

“Diabetes is a disease where ignorance isn’t bliss,” Ann Albright, PhD, RD, emphasized to CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, during their Conversations with the Director talk. What is necessary, Albright explained, is engaging people who have diabetes or are at risk for developing diabetes and actively involving them in their preventive care.

Albright should know. She is the director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation (DDT) and has dedicated her career to diabetes prevention and control. Prior to joining CDC in 2007, Albright led the California Department of Health Services’ Diabetes Program, as well as served as the US Surgeon General’s senior health policy advisor and the Secretary of Health’s Diabetes Detection Initiative director. In addition to her professional experience, Albright has spent the majority of her life successfully managing type 1 diabetes. She joked with Frieden that diabetes advocates often call her the trifecta – someone with diabetes, a clinician, and a researcher.

During their hour-long conversation, Albright and Frieden talked about DDT’s public health initiatives to reduce the nation’s growing yet preventable burden of diabetes, which has seen a dramatic increase in prevalence over the past 15 years. “In 1995 only three states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico had a diagnosed disease prevalence of six percent or more. By 2010, all 50 states had a prevalence of more than six percent,” explained Albright in her team’s recent article in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “These rates will continue to increase until effective interventions and policies are implemented to prevent both type 2 diabetes and obesity.”

Working with States and Communities

More than 40 percent of DDT’s budget supports Diabetes Prevention and Control Programs (DPCPs) run by health departments in all 50 states, US territories, and in Washington, DC. “Tell me about your $26 million grant programs to states,” asked. Frieden during their talk. “What does that buy?” A good portion of the afternoon’s conversation was dedicated to state programs—the challenge of supporting so many DPCPs, which vary in size and scope, and the potential to help millions of people. “If you could blink and change the world,” Frieden challenged with a smile, “what would these programs be doing?”

“The direction our division’s moving in is to be much more targeted in what we’re having states do,” Albright explained. Priorities include surveillance and working with clinicians and the healthcare delivery system to improve diabetes care. “We also want states to focus on getting people with diabetes and prediabetes into proven self-management programs, which are necessary for diabetes control and prevention.”

One such program is DDT’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP). Based on the Diabetes Prevention Program research study led by the National Institutes of Health and supported by CDC, the NDPP works with a variety of partners—government agencies, community organizations, employers, insurers, and healthcare professionals—to set up community evidence-based, lifestyle change programs to prevent type 2 diabetes among people with prediabetes. Participants work with a lifestyle coach in a group setting to improve their eating habits, increase their physical activity to 150 minutes a week, and lose five to seven percent of their body weight. When done together, these modest lifestyle changes can reduce a participant’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.

“People come into this program with a known diagnosis of prediabetes, which is very much a motivator for them,” Albright told Frieden. While everyone is working towards the same goals, she added, the program is much more than simply losing weight. It is about giving participants a supportive environment and a customized approach to making lifestyle changes. “People discover what it is that works best for them.”

This Article by Jessica Podlaski.

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