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New program encourages women to take charge of their health

Fri, Apr 23rd, 2010
Posted in Health & Wellness

Heart disease is the number one cause of death and disability for American women. In fact, more women die of heart disease that any other cause, and more women die of heart disease each year than men. A new program, Sage Plus, offers encouraging support for women who are uninsured or underinsured to prevent these serious health problems. And, it seems to be the kind of health care our country needs to rein in skyrocketing costs.

Sage Plus is a heart health program offered at 14 clinics in Minnesota including the Hawthorne Clinic in Rochester. The program offers women who are over forty free testing for blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes.

The mission of Sage Plus, however, goes far beyond just testing. Its goal is to provide women with the knowledge and skills to improve their diet, increase physical activity and change other lifestyle habits to prevent, delay or control high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

According to Anne Kukowski of the Minnesota Department of Health, "Heart disease and diabetes increase just as a function of age. Most people by far can do something about heart disease; it can be delayed if not completely stopped. Lifestyle changes can keep people from needing to go on medications," which can be expensive and need to be taken for the rest of their lives.

Karen, a Fillmore County resident who is currently uninsured, finds the Sage Plus program to "offer a ray of hope." As a self-employed person she has struggled to find health insurance and health care she could afford. She finds the program to be "very user friendly- it provides blood tests that can be prohibitively expensive for many people who don't have insurance or have high deductibles. Moreover, they take the time to explain the results and options and are very supportive in helping me to make the changes I need to prevent or at least delay heart disease and diabetes. It encourages women to rely on themselves and not just the medical system and drugs."

"More and more people in this country are self-employed," she added, "or losing their health insurance, so the Sage programs are a big help. Many women are familiar with the regular Sage program which offers breast and cervical cancer screening, including mammograms, and know how valuable and lifesaving that program can be."

Mary Ann Moon, RN, is the practitioner at the Hawthorne clinic and an employee of the Mayo Clinic. She strongly believes in the Sage Plus approach noting that, "A lot of people don't connect lifestyles with health, and conventional medical care doesn't necessarily stimulate people to make lifestyle changes. This approach is very cost-effective. Preventing diabetes by watching your diet is so much less expensive than the costs of treating diabetes."

"Most of the women coming into the clinics already have elevated heart risks. Forty to fifty percent already have heart disease or diabetes so it is really an important effort or intervention," according to Kukowski. "The testing or screening is a good start, but you have to do it yourself. We try to use little steps, small steps, to encourage and not overwhelm women to accomplish changes. This is where health care needs to be going- putting the responsibility back on the patient, but not without support."

Prevention, which is a key word for this type of health care, and lifestyle intervention hold out the promise of not just lower risks of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but also easier weight control and lowered risk of osteoporosis.

The Sage Plus program is a collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Health and the Mayo Clinic.

For more information on Sage Plus or to make an appointment, call the Hawthorne Clinic Breast Center at 507-284-1670

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