Beyond Delta and Omicron: Plant-Based Nutrition for Whole-Body Health in the Age of COVID

COVID-19 is an unprecedented epidemic both driven by — and driving — chronic health comorbidities. Experts will discuss the role of whole food, plant-based nutrition in building health resilience.


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  • Lianna Levine Reisner, Network Director of Plant Powered Metro New York
  • Chris Norwood, Executive Director of Health People
  • Richard Rosenfeld, MD, MPH, MBA, Distinguished Professor, Chairman, and Program Director of Otolaryngology; Chair of the Committee on Plant-Based Health and Nutrition at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University
  • Sapana Shah, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Internist at Bellevue Hospital
  • Elton Santana - reversed diabetes through nutrition
  • Rev. John Williams - reversed diabetes through nutrition

When: Tuesday, December 7, 2021, 2:00pm - 3:00pm EST

Where: Newswise Live Zoom Room 

Media Register Here 



Thom: OK! Hello and welcome to today’s Newswise live event. We have a panel of experts today to talk about nutrition and the impact that a plant-based diet can have on preventing and even reversing some diseases. We have representatives from a couple of organizations that I want to call out – here we have Health People and Chris Norwood is the executive Director there at Health People and I'm going to turn it over to her to make some introductions.

Chris Norwood: Hello everyone, I'm really glad people are here. I'm just going to speak for a few moments about the situation we are in, and we really are in co-epidemics, where people with chronic disease have worse outcomes when they get Covid-19, but also the conditions of the pandemic. The lockdowns, the stress eating, the lack of exercise have made the chronic disease worse even when people do not actually contract Covid-19.

To go forward I know many people here have been saying this for years but it’s absolutely at the crisis point. We must start building community health and real nutrition is the strongest way to do that. We know that people are tired but we really have no choice except to address that the Covid epidemic has accelerated the chronic disease epidemics in ways that are outrightly frightening almost unimaginable. For one example reports from medical centers across the country show that diabetes-related limb amputations are soaring between 50% and 1000%. Reports from children’s hospitals are showing that diagnosis of type-II diabetes among youth under 18 has doubled and that these kids are often so sick that standard medications don’t work for them.

For just one example, at Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC – the first year of the pandemic saw 141 cases diagnosed in contrast to 50 the year before. The average age of these kids with Type II which is supposed to be adult-onset diabetes was 14 years old. 60% had to be hospitalized compared with 36% before the epidemic.

The situation we face is unprecedented. It includes the prospect that thousands of young people will be on diabetes-related dialysis before they are out of their 20’s. that is why we have a responsibility to relentlessly educate people on how their health can change. The medicine is good, it's good food, and Lianna is the person who is going to bring you the other part of this message, which is the nice part – about what we can do.

Thom: Thank you Chris, we have Lianna –

Lianna: Yes it's great to be with you, my name is Lianna Levine Reisner – I am the Network Director and President of Plant-Powered Metro New York and I think what gives me hope every day is that food can be medicine and what we hope to show you today with the help of our friends and the medical profession and also from community members is that there is a lot that we can do to take charge of this situation and to allow people to feel empowered and strengthened in the process.

A lot of the prevailing public health narrative that’s been undergirding the entire pandemic season as long as it’s been – is that we have to make individual behavior changes to reduce the risk of viral transmission and guess what – one of the best things we can do is focus on individual behavior changes related to food which we hope will not just address Covid, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, but also these chronic disease states that are contributing to the problem.

So I co-founded and I lead a health empowerment organization that serves new York cities and surrounding counties, its called Plant-Powered Metro New York, and our mission is to empower people to find better health and to overcome the chronic disease through whole food plant based nutrition. So just a quickie definition of what that means is – nutrition that is pre- dominated by whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and did I say – vegetables – because that really is a big key here, however it can be eaten on any budget and it really is a huge piece of our solution and what I'm hopeful for going forward is we have a plant based nutrition champion coming into city hall in January – Eric Adams, you’ll hear a little bit about his story very soon and what we are hoping to do at the grass root level is to expand the general awareness of peoples knowledge of what nutrition has the power to do, and then also to support people in the change process – to make it fun – perhaps not easy, but easier – and our team of grass roots educators and change agents includes many people who have reversed chronic conditions as our incoming mayor has, they’ve reversed everything from Colitis to diabetes to hyper tension using food as medicine – so when I usually tell me own healing story I often talk about reversing endometriosis but a secondary benefit for me related to the whole Covid narrative is that I no longer have recurring bouts of bronchitis which I used to have with seemingly every cold, it would last over a week if not multiple weeks and I am ick far less frequently and severely now because my immune system is stronger and we see this so often in people who eat mostly plants, are able to avoid or bounce back from infectious diseases similarly to chronic illness.

So, we have on here today one of our community members from the Broncs – Nicolle Shelett who participated in our 21-day plant powered jump start program which we held in the fall and she has a really interesting story to share – Nicolle will you tell them what did you change and what kind of impact have you seen?

Nicolle: Absolutely, thank you Lianna – well I could go on and on about how much the 21 day jump start program changed my life but just specifically as a little bit of background I contracted Covid-19 in march 2020 – so the big onset and for the last year and a half I've been largely bedridden in and our of the ER – previously very active lifestyle and so I just felt like - there were days I still can’t get out of bed a year and a half later and a whole host of issues with lungs, heart, gastrointestinal neurological – I mean really my entire body was just ravaged and I joined the program primarily to lose weight and lower my cholesterol – but I never expected it would have such an impact on my Covid symptoms and within just a week of eating with the guidelines of the program – and before that I had eaten a lot of plants, but cutting out processed food and oil completely and sugar just really made the switch for my body and the changes were extensive. I had more energy, I was able to go through a full day feeling like a normal person most days – which was such a victory. My heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, tingling in my extremities, body jerks and even my mood and how I felt – suffering with depression and anxiety so much, over the last year and a half – it all lessened so much so – I truly haven’t had anything improve my symptoms over the year and a half, that I've been struggling - as much as doctors have tried to help, until I've tried this way of eating. 

Of course, I could go on, but it truly has made such a powerful impact on my life – they're doing great work at Plant Powered Metro New York – thank you Lianna.

Lianna: Thanks Nicolle, and would you share also just those non-Covid impacts about – 

Nicolle: Yeah so I mentioned that I had originally joined to lose weight and lower my cholesterol under the advice of the cardiologist I'm working with and within 3 weeks of the program I lost 12 pounds and I don’t know my cholesterol yet, I'm going to measure it in January – and I do want to just mention too – while we’re talking about it that while I was traveling, I had a meal that was good but had some cream in it and it was shocking that how the next day the dizziness came back, the exhaustion came back, the tiredness came back – so as quickly as it was for me to feel better- eating the foods that were not compliant with that, how drastically it triggered my body again was remarkable – so it’s just more of a motivation to continue eating this way and feeling better.

Lianna: Fantastic, thank you Nicolle – your story is really amazing, and I would say that its exceptional but it’s not – we see this so often with people who change really and full to a whole food plant-based diet, although as you’ll hear later there are definitely benefits to making strides in that direction, at many places along the path. But the power of food as medicine is really strong and what we are really excited about with the incoming mayor’s public health agenda and also with many local doctors who are becoming more and more aware of this body of evidence – this is a real game-changer and we want to be sure that people know about it because it gives us more choice and it gives us a sense of hope that we have a way out of this situation that we’re in. 

I'm going to turn it back to you Thom to get deeper into the weeds on nutrition.

Thom: Thank you Lianna. We have with us here Dr. Rosenfeld – I want to introduce him and spotlight his video – Dr. Rosenfeld is MD, MPH, MBA and Distinguished Professor and Chairman and Program of Otolaryngology – he is also Chair of the Committee on Plant-Based health and nutrition at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University – Dr. Rosenfeld- thanks so much for joining – and so as Lianna was describing some of the potentials of engaging in this kind of plant-based nutrition and on lifestyle changes adding to it – tell us more about the evidence and in particular the impact on Covid patients.

Dr. Rosenfeld: Thanks Thom and I’ll also mention that I may be an ear, nose and throat doc but my real passion is lifestyle medicine which I am a diplomat at the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine and have been very active with Lianna and others for several years. 

Getting to your question – I think the starting point is nutrition and then we can morph into more of the diseases and Covid – just as an attention-getter, the leading cause of mortality in the United States now is poor diet. It's more than half a million deaths a year and its not just the US, it's global. There was a Lancet study in 2019 looking at 195 countries and they found that diet alone was responsible for 22% - that’s nearly 1 in 4 of deaths from non-communicable disease – 11 million overall, and when you look at something called disability-adjusted life here, meaning how long people live healthily – about 15% of that, or 25 million were due to diet and the diet that we know – at least in America, the standard American diet is about 60 – 65% of these ultra-processed foods that you need a chemistry degree to understand what’s in them, they're full of fats, sugar, salt, very addictive and now a recent study in Jama showed that in young people, school-age kids, their diets now are about 65 – 70% ultra-processed, junk food – it's gone up about 10% from just 2000. 

Would you like me to morph now into Covid and disease or do you have any questions on that?

Thom: We would love to hear more about how this relates to Covid and disease – we also have that testimonial of Eric Adams talking about getting his and his mother’s health to improve dramatically. 

Dr. Rosenfeld: Yeah let me give you a little background before the testimonial and then we could pick up after that, but – when we talk about covid and the media is replete with an emphasis on age – it’s a disease of the elderly, the morbidity occurs in old people. It's due to your race, your ethnicity, particularly if you're black African American or Hispanic, Latino – you're going to have bad outcomes, but what’s missed in the discussion is to talk about the underlying chronic diseases. Which are often lifestyle-related and tend to be more common in these groups. As the main reasons for hospitalization, severe disease and death.

So I'm just going to briefly focus on three of them – obesity, diabetes and hypertension. 

Obesity affects about 43% of US adults – I mean that’s incredible. 20 years ago it was only 30% and severe obesity, morbid obesity is 1 in 10 in the US – this comes from the CDC, national health surveys and its even higher for African Americans, blacks, Hispanics. 

If you link this to Covid – about almost 50% of Covid patients tend to have obesity, a little more than the general population but what really stands out is that there is a 68% - nearly 70% increase in Covid mortality, dying from Covid if you're obese. I mean that’s extraordinary.

And another study in nature- in 2020 showed a 92% higher risk of death from Covid if you had severe obesity. So it really is dramatic.

Moving to diabetes which is what we’ll hear about from President Adams or Mayor-Elect Adams is that currently a little more than 14% - 1 in 7 adults in the US have diabetes, that’s up from 10% in the year 2000 – but you have to add to this about 35%, 1 in 3 adults who have pre-diabetes – meaning their blood sugar is high, their hemoglobin A1C is high, they may not know it but they're on the cusp of transitioning to diabetes – this comes from the CDC and national surveys. 

Back to Covid – nearly 60% of Covid patients have diabetes. That’s four times the general population and there's about an 8% increase in Covid mortality from diabetes – the risk of severe Covid being hospitalized in an ICU on a ventilator is more than twice as high. It’s about a 110% based on a systematic review of nearly 15,000 individuals and a study in Nature last year showed that you have a 95% higher risk of death if your diabetes is uncontrolled. So both for obesity and diabetes, we see a much higher prevalence in people with Covid and many poor outcomes, particularly risk of death.

Last hypertension – high blood pressure – its about half the US population. Little higher in men than women – probably even more than that because many people don’t even know they have it.

If you look at the Covid patients, nearly 1 in 4 have hypertension, which is actually less than the general population, but it does increase mortality by about 6% and impressively the risk of getting severe Covid is about 66% higher based on a systematic review from last year. So, its these three co-morbidities, all of which are lifestyle-related in particular related to your diet and ultra-processed food that will make you more likely to get Covid and less likely to survive it.

Thom: Thanks Dr. Rosenfeld – I want to play this video of Eric Adams, the current Brooklyn Borough president and mayor-elect of New York city and his story is one of a similar kind of case that Dr. Rosenfeld is talking about – being able to reverse his diabetes.


People often asked me about my diabetes diagnosis and what did I do to deal with it. I felt as though this is part of getting older. We heard these stories before, you get older – you're supposed to get some form of chronic disease and there was almost a surrender until the vision loss. That was like a wake-up call – and I said – you know what – if I'm going to have to lose this war of health, it's not going to be without a battle. 

I went to my computer and googled – reversing diabetes and I was just hoping to get a glimpse in what’s in the universe of slowing down the progression of – how can I slow down my eye loss, how can I slow down the nerve damage – how do I slow it down. When I started to see the term used over and over again – reversal, reversal, reversal – and I started reading some of the stories I said – you know what, something maybe to this and that is when I started the journey of saying – you know it’s no more – living with – it was about reversing and then I moved in that direction.

Three weeks after that my eyesight cleared up. My ophthalmologist said – what did you do? What happened here? Because she told me to turn in my driver's license, she stated that you are no longer legally able to drive and 3 months after following the diet, my blood pressure normalized, my A1C went down to a 5.7, to a pre-diabetes level. The ulcer went away, the nerve damage in my hands and feet went away, the numbness in my thigh went away. It was just amazing that how fast the body responded.

It was never in my DNA – it was in my dinner. Mother joined me at the age of 80 – 15 years as a diabetic, 7 years on insulin – 2 months going whole food, plant-based – threw her insulin away. 

I'm happier now - yes – I'm happier now and I learned a lot to know that I don’t have to eat all that meat and all those unnecessary things that I was eating too – they weren’t for my wellness. That it was harmful to me to be eating like that. I would be bloated and I would feel uncomfortable – that’s the best thing I could ever do for myself – yes.

The body is like saying – I want to heal you, but every time I try to, you're making sure that you give me more poison to prevent me from doing my job, and all I did was get out of my body’s way.

Thom: Dr. Rosenfeld any follow-up thoughts about Eric Adams story?

Dr. Rosenfeld: Yeah absolutely and Eric is just incredible. He has taken this to such levels, spreading the word and I think we’re thrilled as Lianna mentioned, to have him as our incoming mayor, but his story may sound anecdotal but it's not. I recently had the privilege of sharing and being the first author on what’s called an expert consensus statement – sponsored by the American College of lifestyle medicine on reversing, getting Type II diabetes into complete remission using diet as a primary intervention and this project took about two years. We included not just lifestyle medicine or believers as they say- but also diabeticians, endocrinologists. People from cardiac and heart association. From family medicine. From diabeticians, nutritionists, other specialists from diverse fields, and ultimately this would be published in the spring, but the conclusion was overwhelming that yes- in many cases you can completely put diabetes in remission with a proper diet emphasizing whole foods and plant-based foods. 

Just to tie this up, if you take home points for the listeners – I think it's so empowering to know that if you adopt the right lifestyle, you can boost your immune system and reduce comorbid diseases and whatever comes your way, including Covid. 

The key is eating right – it is more whole, healthy plant food – so that’s the whole grain, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes while reducing salt. Salt is a big problem. There is overwhelming evidence from randomized trials, observational studies – large population cohorts around the world going back 40 – 50 years that a healthy plant-forward diet is one of the best ways to prevent and reduce obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and many other chronic non-infectious diseases. I’d also add in getting a little exercise – the minimum of about 150 minutes weekly of moderate activity such as brisk walking or house chores or gardening or other work, and sleeping. Getting enough sleep but not too much. 7 to 9 is optimal, if you lay in bed for more than 9 hours your health actually goes down. So I think we’re all empowered to take this under our control and last point – its good to reduce your meat, particularly processed meat- but the studies show that the key benefit comes from eating more healthy whole plant foods, particularly those with lots of fiber. So reduce the meat, but more importantly boost the health whole plant foods.


Thom: Thank you, Dr. Rosenfeld, next I would like to introduce Sapana Shah – she’s MD and MPH, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and she’s also an internist at NYC Health and hospitals, and at Bellevue the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program. Dr. Shah thank you so much for joining us- tell us about your clinic and Bellevue and go through some of these points about how your program is helping people with these issues.

Sapana: Thank you so much for inviting me to share a little bit about our program, the plant-based lifestyle medicine program here at Bellevue – I just wanted to say that this program started accepting its first patients in January of 2019 and it was born out of the vision of Eric Adams and his remarkable where he was able to put his diabetes into remission and he wanted to pay it forward and help other New Yorkers learn more about what plant-based nutrition is and how they can transition to a plant-based diet if they're interested in it.

He understood the barriers to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, including maybe not having enough access to fruits and vegetables around you or not being familiar with cooking, maybe not having family support to do this, maybe you have competing work interests or a lot of stress is in your life – so we understand that it would be – there are certain people who – sometimes you just need the information and who just go off and other people who need a lot more sport to make this transition. 

So he wanted to make that sport available to people here in New York and especially he wanted to make sure that everyone from all socio-economic backgrounds has access to this type of information and so he has this program at Bellevue hospital which is the oldest public safety hospital here in the country and he did that so that he can ensure that this program can be accessible to everyone. 

So these were the challenges that he knew existed and so he based this program at Bellevue hospital – and much to our surprise this program actually, the demand for it was incredible and today there's been over 850 people who have been put on the waiting list for this program, which just shows you the amount of interest people have in wanting to improve their own health and they're just looking for information, they're looking for some guidance and some help and so this is terrific.

Just a little bit about our program, there are certain criteria that allow you to participate in the program, so if you have prediabetes or diabetes – high blood pressure, heart disease, or any health concerns related to obesity – those are the qualifying criteria to enter the program and you can either self-refer by calling the hotline or you can have a provider refer you to our program through the e-consult system within the health and hospital system, or if you're an outside provider you can just give this number to your patient and the patient will call. This is our team on the left-hand side – it's 4 physicians and a dietician and a health coach. 

Just a little bit about how our program is run – it's basically a team approach that we’re using and we’re using all the pillars of lifestyle medicine that Dr. Rosenfeld had just mentioned. We really emphasize not just diet – although diet and a plant-based diet is central to our program, but we understand that if sleep is not optimized, stress is not optimized if people are not able to move and exercise- it can be very difficult for them to make the changes in the diet that we want them to make. So we try to incorporate all of these different aspects of lifestyle medicine into our program and the first initial visit with a physician we’re trying to really understand what the patient motivation is for making this change and we gather more about the specifics of what they’re eating and their exercise and their stress levels and we establish goals with them which the dietician and the health coachwork on pretty regularly with them to try to optimize and we know from all the studies that even if you don’t go a 100% whole food plant-based, any incremental step you make towards incorporating more fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains into your diet, and replacing the unhealthy food – you will see the benefit. So that’s what we’re here for. If people want to jump right into whole food plant-based – we are there to help them, but if they just want to incorporate more vegetables into their diet, we’re also here to support them. Wherever they're at, we’re there to meet them and we just kind of work with them and we know that they're in charge and we’re just here to support them and provide them with enough that they need to succeed.

The new approach since the pandemic was that we started having group meetings and they're actually being held online, so there are cohorts of patients who go through our program and they meet on a weekly basis where on the right side you can see all the weekly topics that are discussed – what constitutes a plant-powered plate, another session might be all about reading labels, calorie, density – another is all about how to prepare recipes, how to convert recipes that they’re familiar with into more plant-based ones, how to eat at restaurants, how to batch cook and save time on cooking, how to incorporate mindful eating techniques when you're eating to avoid stress eating. Really how to focus on stress and sleep, which is usually addressed on every single visit – to help them really succeed in making these kinds of changes.

There's a Facebook support group which is also great for patients to share recipes and support one another and provide inspiration for one another. And you can just imagine people along this journey who are already plant-based and who wanted more support in the program and others who are very new to this – so it's really exciting to see people from all stages move throughout our program and help one another. 

This is just a case of a patient who – a gentleman who is 41 years old, who had severe obesity, hypertension, 8-year history of diabetes, on two medications and one medication for blood pressure when he started the program and you can just see 10 weeks later – similarly to the remarkable changes that Eric Adams underwent, in 10 weeks his A1C went from 8.2% to 5.7% which is just in the pre-diabetic range and he was able to get off one of his medications. His blood pressure significantly improved, his weight went down 4kilograms and this is actually just really focusing on the diet and incorporating more of a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet.

Just looking at other studies and relating this to Covid, if we could have just reduced diet-related conditions like diabetes or obesity by 10% - we would have prevented 11% of hospitalizations due to Covid 19. 

Just taking like a macro picture back – it's really focusing on these behavior changes, including eating healthy, exercising more, maintaining healthy body weight. By focusing on those we can reduce 80% of chronic diseases that lead to increased mortality and if we were to actually accomplish those – four healthy behaviors that we see on the left-hand side, not smoking, healthy weight with a BMI less than 25, eating just 5 fruits and vegetables in the day and regularly exercising. Just 30 minutes of walking daily. If you had all 4 of those things, you'd be able to reduce diabetes by 93%. 81% of heart disease would be reduced and prevented, 50% of strokes would be prevented and 30% of cancers would be prevented – only if 3% of Americans currently have those healthy behaviors – so you can see there's a lot of room for us to help people move towards getting healthier and they just need more support, and that’s what this program is really- there to help patients with these same risk factors that we’re trying to prevent with this plant-based diet or the exact same risk factors that we’re trying to prevent with our whole food plant-based diet, are the exact same risk factors that other panelists have mentioned. The same diseases are what lead to worse than Covid outcomes. So by preventing these chronic diseases we’re immediately reducing people's risk of severe Covid and actually, the studies have come out over the summertime looking at people who did follow more of a plant-based diet. This one that came out in September 2021 and published in the journal GUT – looked at over 500,000 people who were participating in a smartphone study, looking at Covid-19 symptoms from March 2020 to December 2020 – they assessed your diet at the beginning of the study for all for 9 months and they found that those that followed more of a healthy plant-based diet, had a 41% reduction in severe Covid 19 which isn’t surprising because you're reducing the risk factors that lead to those complications. The risk factors that led to complications of severe Covid-19 are worsening outcomes – so really addressing the root cause of the disease, people disease and their chronic diseases were reducing the risk of severe Covid.

This other study looked at healthcare workers who were frontline workers and from 6 different countries and just looked at who came down with Covid – severe covid19 versus who didn’t and those following a more plant-based diet also had a 73% lower odds of developing moderate to severe Covid-19 compared to those not following it.

So we know that the benefits – we’ve known for years that the benefit of eating a whole food plant-based diet protects you in the long term from chronic diseases ad improve your mortality and now we know that in the short term this is actually boosting our immune system and really protecting us against infections like the ones in the pandemic we’re currently facing. And it’s not very surprising because most of the immune system is in our gut and the gut immune system is fueled by fiber, which is only found in plant-based foods.

And I love this chart by the physician's committee for responsible medicine looking at all the different benefits that you get when you eat across the spectrum of fruits and vegetables – highlighting the improvement in your immunity and how it reduces inflammation.

Thom: It's striking to me how much there is the science behind all this but also your program really focuses on support and community and I know that that’s maybe difficult to quantify but I wanted to ask you just to comment on the importance of all of that and how crucial that community is part of the success for people.

Sapana: It can be huge because you can imagine how isolating it can be when you are yourself just making this change and no one around you – you have no one to bounce recipes, your ideas off of, or anyone else who is making those changes around you and these cohorts of patients who go through the program together is actually really supporting one another as they're making these changes.

At the end of the program many exchange phone numbers so that they can continue to meet after the program is over, which is really just heartening. I've seen many people in my own practice, cause I've been practicing whole food plant-based nutrition with my patients and emphasizing a plant-based diet for many, many years – since 2013 and the things that throw people off track is often times they feel that it’s very isolating because there's no one else around them, so just to be able to provide them with that support I think is key.

Thom: I want to also take it back to Chris to tell us more about Health People and your mission there and also how you're part of creating that community with your peer educators. 

Chris: I think when Dr. Shah says the Bellevue program was started to enable people who ordinarily don’t get this information to participate and have support – we have a huge huge problem and we’re all thinking about how with resources being limited, I mean there you have an 850 person waiting list, that’s tragic. So I really think one very, very important strategy we need to think about is peer education. Our peer education program – that’s entirely what we do, train people with aids and chronic disease themselves to help other people stay well. 

For diabetes – and it was quite extraordinary because for years we tried to do a large diabetes program and there was no funding anywhere, so we obtained special federal funding and we trained about 25 people from the community who had diabetes or diabetes in their family to go out and provide what’s known as the diabetes self-management program, the DSMP – this is a six-session course of 2.5 hours per session and you do it in small groups. It does have a lot of nutrition information, it does encourage people to eat vegetables and cut down on sugar and fat and salt, but it’s also about self-management, it’s very, very supportive.

Doing that as a community model, a total community model – this program has to be given to facilitators – usually, it’s a professional facilitator and a peer facilitator, but we had two peer facilitators. They took this everywhere – churches, homeless shelters, everywhere – they engaged almost 2000 people in this program and it’s a record for New York state and New York City and people tell me it’s a record for the United States too, for a community agency to engage people in this.

When we took it into homeless shelters, under a special city department of health funding – there was a 45% reduction in emergency room visits, in 6 months. I'm not going to claim that people were 45% health improvement because it's very hard for people in shelters to control what they eat, get sleep, there are sirens all night in homeless shelters, it's really a bad place to try and sleep, but I think what this shows again with the 850 waiting list of Bellevue – people want this information. Just like all this mythology – people won't pay attention, especially people who won’t pay attention in the poor neighborhoods where this is most needed.

It's extraordinary we would think that, especially when we haven’t even tried. I mean for other diseases we’ve been very successful, with HIV even before there was medication, there was a huge outreach, there was special federal money, special state money, there is no special state money or city money for diabetes at this point – neither New York State nor New York City – even with billions in federal recovery money, still spend 1 penny on teaching people diabetes self-management.

So we do need those resources and then we need to put in our best strategies to work with communities, to give them the education to become leaders and go forward and I’d like to introduce Elton Santana who is a peer leader for Health People and he can tell you some of what he sees in the field, but also he reversed his own diabetes when he wasn’t really even planning to. Just by starting some basic things.

Elton: Thank you, Chris – well those of us who are afflicted with Diabetes is in a dire situation, especially with the pandemic and the variants of Covid -19 because we are in danger of what we call the silent killer and its domino effect – which is high blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension and the mental struggles that go along with diabetes and being sick.

We have been helping our community by going out there and informing them and empowering the community and giving them tools, trying to help them to change their behavior so that they can become healthier. So it is an accredited program, the diabetes self-management program. It empowered me as well because shortly after I started this program and I started going out and doing workshops, my doctor took me off of my diabetes medication because I followed the program myself and it happened pretty quickly.

I started feeling better, I started losing weight, I started to exercise more and feel better, sleeping better, and eating better. So, the thing is when the doctor just mentioned the disparities with the communities Hispanics and African Americans who don’t really have good health insurance or who can't really afford premium health insurance – that really put pressure on them trying to achieve better healthcare. 

For example, my mum who has Parkinson’s and dementia, who is in a home now, if she had better health insurance I think she would have probably been better off, more healthy. And of course, we know Chris Norwood has been fighting for this topic and this issue for many years, to bring awareness and to strive to make our community healthier and fewer people with diabetes and since I feel that I was able to reverse my diabetes and maintain it – to this day I'm still not taking diabetes medication, that makes me very happy and it lets me know that this program, this accredited program really works.

We teach people in these workshops healthy eating, physical activity, action planning, stress management, understanding your emotions, problem-solving, working with their providers, and talking about medication and their side effects – decision making and behavioral stuff, not smoking or drinking too much alcohol – 

Thom: Thank you very much, Elton. Chris any other thoughts before we bring in Rev. Williams?

Chris: No, I know everyone here works so hard and they’ve worked and worked on this, I think we need to have national legislation and we certainly have to insist that the federal recovery money which is supposed to be from Covid recovery – and this is certainly part of recovering from Covid, that it be a sign to work like this with chronic disease.

I’ll just mention – the NY City Department of health’s Covid recovery plan, a 5.9 billion dollars, doesn’t have the word diabetes in it – once – its not even mentioned. I'm hoping the new governor will have this reviewed – well they have 12 billion, they put in for another 19 billion which is supposed to be to improve Medicaid and that plan doesn’t have the word diabetes in it – once – so that tells us the incredible – it wont shock anyone here, but there are 26 billion dollars supposedly for Covid recovery of which none of it is specifically assigned to improving chronic disease and so we have this terrible separation between what’s actually happening in communities and the public health establishment.

Thom: Thank you, I want to introduce Rev. John Williams and Rev. Williams can tell us a little bit about some of the strategies for how people can stick with these programs or even more importantly get back on it. So Rev. Williams, tell us about what you're doing under those kinds of concerns.

Rev. Williams: Well first of all I would like to mention that my passion for this subject – and dealing of course – I'm a minister, I'm an urban public health specialist and a community and activator – I'm the former president of New Creation, community health empowerment Inc and a 7th Day Adventist. 

Now that’s very important because – I must say that – first of all my grandmother died from diabetes, my mother died from diabetes – she had it, very high blood pressure, she got blind, of course, she gave up and of course, with her high blood pressure, she got an aneurysm and got into a coma and never came out. 

My son developed diabetes at 11 years old, he had type 1 – and my sister and I were pre-diagnosed – but because of my lifestyle as a 7th day Adventist and teacher, I operate with a philosophy that for one to return to optimum health, one has to reverse the path it took you to get where you're at to get back to where you ought to have been. And so I've been teaching this – but as an Adventist, health practitioner, and naturopathic practitioner, I walked away from my lifestyle and when we talk about health – health is not a doctrine but it’s a principle, but temperance is a doctrine.

So temperance is very important and being intemperate you stray away from your pathway and of course my partner – Dr. Mary Ann Banerjee, she’s an endocrinologist and we worked in the community with people with this diabetes problem and so she said – I was having all the symptoms, I even got into a little bumper bender at the traffic light because I fell asleep – drowsy and diabetic – so I went to Kings County emergency room and sure enough my sugar was 574, my hemoglobin A1C was 12.8 and they slapped some insulin in me, sent me home, I got back, they put me on insulin, Depacid, Metformin, blood pressure pills and all those different things – because I knew how I got there, all I had to do according to the philosophy was to reverse the process.

And so I got back to my lifestyle, I became a pescatarian and eating here and there stuff and I put on a 6-month belly – so I really was bad with my weight and everything and so I went back on the path and sure enough without 8 months – I had to come off the insulin and then the Glipizide was causing itches in my body, I had to get off of glipizide and then finally I came off the Metformin, I never took the blood pressure pills, but going back to my plant-based nutrition as a vegetarian, sure enough, I lost the weight, I got rid of it, my hemoglobin A1C came back down to 6.5 using no insulin and I got on a real crusade to get the community because our community in the flat bush was suffering from a new type of diabetes, that Dr. Banerjee actually called it the Flatbush diabetes. 

Now that is very strange – so the Flatbush diabetes was affecting a lot of people in our community and I focused on that by forming the island of Flatbush diabetes task force and we started doing seminars and workshops in it and then we launched the Central Brooklyn diabetes taskforce at Burrow Hall with Eric Adams in 2015 and that was April of 2015 – that he launched the central Brooklyn Diabetes taskforce with us and at that launching he announced his diagnosis a month prior to that – which was March 2015 and he started a process and to this day we with the island of Flatbush, the village of Bushwick and the town of East New York Brownsville, that make up central Brooklyn – we use this philosophy of the church base preventive health centres initiative where we got all the churches in the community – catholic, Muslim – and of course the mosques – so it’s an interfaith thing, and make them become centre for preventive health and we promote three programs – the NDPP – which we talked about, the DSMP and also we have a program called the 12 weeks to wellness which we use the Daniel diet starting off – with a Daniel fast and then move on gradually into changing lifestyle. And so today we have really – what Chris is saying, I hope that you guys in this program, Bellevue and all of you would show the influence now that we have a serious bully pulpit which is, of course, city hall and with that pulpit – what he started at Bellevue – we hope that all the hospitals in New York City would cover that and with the city influencing the city council, the department of health would influence the state and we would get that funding so that we could literally bring about the reversal.

Because you know, when we talked about 80% of the people that died from diabetes in New York were seniors and 70% of them had diabetes and so many amputations – come on, we can do better with the budget that we’re going to be coming up within the new year.

So, our program is based on the churches, synagogues, and mosques – so it’s a faith-based preventive health center initiative that reaches the people and helps to promote these three programs of the NDPP, DSMP, and the 12 weeks to wellness.

Thom: Thank you so much, Rev. Williams – getting back on track and staying on track or starting things off right, seem to be a recurring theme with a lot of the services that these organizations are offering and so I want to invite back Chris as well as Lianna to talk about the kickoff and start-up programs that you have. Some of this community support and accountability amongst different people, all trying to get started on this. 

What can you tell us about these kinds of options and the effectiveness of these 21-day jumpstart kinds of things?

Lianna: So we often get asked and I thank Jessica also for asking this question when we were planning for today – what do I do next? How do I take this information and make it real for me and of course for folks in media and in journalism, there is just a lot to do in just sharing stories. We often find that living the experience ourselves is an incredible piece of ambassadorship and verifying the details on a personal level. So at Plant-Powered Metro New York, we try to have often ongoing programs that will help people at various stages of understanding and interest to come in and learn and to experiment with us. 

Even this Thursday we’re going to have a program that we call Get Started – with whole food plant-based nutrition, it's out monthly one on one level – I want to try this out, what do I need to know the first kind of program. So I believe that Thom has shared the link with you in the chatbox and we really encourage anybody who is interested to come and join us and then if you're really motivated and excited about what you’ve heard, we are holding our community-wide jump start program which is a 21-day plant-powered jumpstart which you heard Nicolle speak about.

We’re repeating this program from January until February and it has a lot of support. You’ll get the ground floor of all things you need to know about nutrition from the science perspective but also lifestyle tips. We do culinary demonstrations, we offer peer mentorship, and have small groups get mentored together by somebody who has walked the path before. 

It's really the same model that Chris is talking about where you have community members who have already done this personally and have so much to offer and then the interplay that we all have when we hear from each other about the challenges that we face and how we overcome them can be tremendously supportive in the vein of what Dr. Shah was talking about with the community support that they offer at Bellevue – we’re trying to recreate that on a community level as well.

So, I invite anybody interested to take a look, we’re happy to company folks in the media to participate in this jumpstart program, and information about how to register is on our website now and you can reach out to me if you’d like a code to participate for free.

Thom: That sounds like quite an interesting offer for a journalist to get a real first-hand experience with that, so that could really make quite an interesting piece of journalism, I think that’s a great idea, Lianna. Chris, did you have anything you'd want to add?

Chris: No I think I'm going to say honestly we are doing some classes, but we are truly focused right now on advocacy because we can't go on this way, really can not and the time was actually 20 years ago but now it really is the time. So if anybody wants to join in advocacy – you don’t have to get arrested – but if anybody wants to join in advocacy I would invite them to contact us and I think Rev. Williams – am I correct in January, that’s when you put online your wellness program – is that correct?

Rev. Williams: Yes, I sent it out, I don’t know if you got the link for that.

Thom: That's the Daley Health link –

Rev. Williams: Yeah, now we have hundreds, I mean hundreds of people – even thousands that have a testimony of 10 days – I mean, 10 days – that is so true – I mean the Prophet Daniel told the king – keep your meat and your dainties away, just give me a plant-based nutrition and prove us in 10 days – the beautiful thing about it- he was fairer and fatter – not obese, fairer and fatter and wiser – those three things, than all the other prophets – he and his boys. So we are proving that today – in 10 days we’ve got people with blood pressure, cholesterol – everything – they're showing arthritis, the pain – they are giving wonderful testimonies of what happens in 10 days. So the 10 days Daniel diet we are starting in January – I think it's January 6th – you have the website. 

Chris: Right and people can follow that online. We have it online for people coming up and I guess you're not taking any more people for the waiting list, Dr. Shah – 

Sapana: It's been moving down the waiting list, so anyone who is interested should be able to like – 

Chris: Well I think it’s important to know how many people are on that waiting list. Once again – the mythology that people won't pay attention is a very destructive methodology.

Sapana: And the people I think who can stand to benefit the most, let's say if you're diabetic and you're on insulin, or you're on medication is when you make these changes, your blood sugar can drop very quickly and so its always good to do this kind of dietary change with someone – with a practitioner so that if you need to change your medications you can alter them because you don’t want to have hypoglycemia and fall – because your blood sugar is too low. So, that has definitely happened where people's blood sugar is so low, so you just have to monitor your blood sugar and you just taper back their medications which are incredibly gratifying to do for a physician and very nice for patients to experience.

Chris: Can I just ask – is your program solely for adults or would you take some of these 14 years old’s – type II diabetes or more than that – would you start a special program for teenagers?

Sapana: I think right now it’s just tailored for adults but we would love to extend it to a family model so that for patients who have children, teenagers who are heavy or have diabetes or pre-diabetes – they would also be able to benefit. I think its best if children are doing it with their parents because they're the ones who are going to be cooking for the most part, so its good to do a family program, but we don’t have that yet – but that is definitely something we would love to do.

Thom: We look forward to that Dr. Shah – thank you.

Rev. Williams: So the program is from the 16th to the 25th of January.

Chris: Terrific – good way to start off the new year.

Thom: Stay tuned to the link for information about the program Rev. Williams is talking about and I've also chatted to everyone a couple of links to the programs coming up with Plant-Powered Metro New York as well as Lianna’s email address. If there are no other questions we’ll go ahead and wrap things up – I want to thank Chris Norwood the ED at Health People and Lianna Levine the Network Director of Plant-Powered Metro New York and our other distinguished guests – Dr. Rosenfeld, Dr. Shah, Rev. Williams, Nicolle, and Elton – thank you all very much for joining and for sharing your insights on these very important programs.

If you registered for today’s webinar – we will be providing you with a recording and a transcript of today's session, so as long as you registered for that you are already on the list to receive those things. If you didn’t register and you just joined because someone shared a link or you saw it on social media and you want to get those links to the recording and transcript – please send us a short email requesting that to [email protected] and we’ll make sure to add you to that list.

Thank you very much everyone – stay safe, stay healthy and good luck.