Remember how the Blue Circle was designed to bring the global diabetes community together under one universal symbol to raise awareness and boost advocacy?
Well, now the same D-Mom who was central to creating that Blue Circle a decade ago is working hard to bring blueberries to the forefront as a way to raise awareness about diabetes and healthy eating. No kidding! She's actually got the backing of the blueberry agricultural industry, along with some key players in the Diabetes Community, for a campaign to expand access to fruits and vegetables in a way that could actually make a difference and change eating behaviors.
Say hello to the Blueberry Family Health Foundation.
This foundation is the brainchild of D-Mom Kari Rosenfeld, whom you may remember was key to the International Diabetes Federation's Blue Circle campaign and began in this community because of her daughter Clare, who was diagnosed at age 7 in 1993. Kari serves as executive director of the new foundation, which has been in the works for several months now and is just getting started with a public campaign.
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We all know the need -- with talk of food choices and healthy eating a big topic of conversation in our D-Community these days. The IDF is running its own "healthy cities" campaign focusing on access to better food choices leading up to World Diabetes Day this year, along with the Cities Changing Diabetes initiative pioneered by Novo Nordisk and the Steno Diabetes Center.
But this new effort is centered around blueberries, in a way that deliberately brings to mind the Blue Circle symbol, and it really seems to have some oomph behind it as far as having the potential to impact people's health.
The idea of "giving diabetes the blues," as Kari likes to say, comes from her family's interest in expanding the conversation about how diabetes can be impacted by the foods we eat -- especially in the context of type 2 diabetes, which is a growing epidemic impacting more kids these days than ever before.
"The blueberry is just a happy fruit," Kari says. "Consumers love it more than any other berry, and this could be a real tool to be an emblem for health."
Story Behind the Blueberries
About a decade ago, Kari and her daughter put all of their energy into the IDF-led Blue Circle campaign. They scored big in gaining enough support for the establishment of a UN Resolution on recognizing and combating diabetes. That was adopted in 2006, and it was the impetus for the first big Blue Circle campaign that brought on a surge of interest about World Diabetes Day -- just as the Diabetes Online Community was exploding with new bloggers and networks.
Within a few years, though, Kari's daughter grew up, and she began to turn her attention back to her extended family in Oregon -- a family in blueberry the business, so that's where her two worlds came together.
Kari's family owns the Fall Creek Nursery in Oregon, the largest vendor for blueberry growers worldwide that her brother and his wife founded in the 70s. If you see blueberries in the grocery store, Kari says chances are her family's nursery is within two degrees from the person buying those berries. In 2013, the family began wondering what they could do to use this long-term, family-run business to influence the industry to pool resources in order to do collective good.
While Clare's not involved, as she's in her late 20s now and studying for her PhD in public health at Harvard, Kari says her daughter's experience growing up still lies behind the blueberry initiative. The D-Mom recalls how Clare and her cousin, Amelie Aust (who's now serving as the foundation's board president), used to love eating blueberries when they were kids, and grew up playing in the blueberry fields. She remembers how Clare, amazingly, didn't have to bolus for those berries because they hardly impacted her blood sugars.
So, that all came to mind when thinking about this new blueberry initiative.
Kari's brother has a scientific background, and has a keen interest in the topic of blueberries and health. Soon the well-regarded Highbush Blueberry Council started researching them, and found studies proving the benefit of fruits for diabetes; apples and grapes have a good track record of reducing the incidence of type 2, but blueberries were the clear winner and now are now being studied more in-depth in Europe.
Kari started thinking about how her daughter's type 1 couldn't be prevented, but how so many kids and even adults with type 2 are able to improve their health through eating better.
"As a mom, I knew the benefits all along of what a great benefit blueberries are for my daughter's type 1. But what if we could utilize the blueberry as a tool, to symbolize a healthy lifestyle?
"You can tell people to change their lifestyles, but there's an access issue to healthy foods. We did a UN Resolution for diabetes globally, but how could we think bigger and broader and make a positive change? This is our answer."
— Kari Rosenfeld, on how blueberries can help diabetes advocacy
Giving Diabetes the Blues
Apparently, blueberry growing remains mostly a family-run industry. The Blueberry Family Health Foundation officially kicked off last year at a national blueberry industry event in February where Dr. Fran Kaufman, chief medical officer of Medtronic Diabetes, was the keynote speaker discussing her global diabetes work in developing countries. Other well-known supporters in the D-World include Charles Renfroe, director of patient advocacy and community outreach at Johnson & Johnson; and CDE Ann Constance, director of the U.P. Diabetes Outreach Network (UPDON) on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Renfroe says he's impressed with the foundation's non-profit model that has so much industry support up front already.
"In times like these with the limiting of corporate grants and sponsorships, it's encouraging to see the blueberry industry step up and get behind something like this to benefit health," he said.
Now with the 2014 American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions just around the corner, the blueberry foundation's leaders are ready to introduce this idea to the broader diabetes community.
"We can be a bridge between the agriculture industry and diabetes, with an initial focus on type 2 and children," said Kari's niece and foundation leader, Amelie. "Our long-term vision is that over multiple generations, we could end type 2 in children. That's the area we have a laser focus on right now. We want to be bold and make a difference, and we're not going to go too small." The idea is to first target the U.S., and then go global.
Once programs are developed in the coming months, Amelie said the foundation will have a clear roadmap on how it plans to proceed for launching programs in early 2015. One idea is to develop a farm-to-preschool program where kids can learn about healthy eating, the link to type 2 diabetes, and the benefit of blueberries on your health.
Down the road, they may look at expanding beyond blueberries to other "blues" -- such as incorporating blues music or bluegrass, and gaining more support and collaboration that way.
Of course, the hope is that the D-industry and the pharmaceutical companies take an interest in helping to remove barriers to getting blueberries and other healthy foods into local communities.
Kari says a great place to start is using the resources we have already -- the snacks that get into kids' hands on a daily basis. We can start educating them about how many calories they're consuming, and work to get whole fruits and other healthy choices in the hands of kids and families who need them most -- while educating them about why these are better food options when it comes to healthy living.
"This world doesn't need just another non-profit," Kari said. "The blueberry is just an emblem and initial group of people, but we hope to create a conversation about all kinds of healthy fruits and vegetables, access and affordability, and being able to transport these foods efficiently in order to make this a healthy option."