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Posted at 12:33 PM ET, 11/29/2011

Dominique Dawes speaks on behalf of Diabetes Awareness Month

Dominique Dawes, an Olympic gold medalist, offered hugs and encouragement to patients at Howard University Hospital Tuesday, many of whom remembered her as the little girl from Silver Spring who went on to captivate the world with her gymnastics skills.
Dominique Dawes talks with patients at the Howard University Diabetes Treatment Center. (Hamil R. Harris - The Washington Post )

But Dawes visited the hospital’s Diabetes Treatment Center to make a point that the disease--plaguing 26 million Americans--can be managed through medical screening, proper diet and exercise.

“In the African American culture we tend to enjoy certain types of foods that are not good for us not just during the holidays but year around,” said Dawes, 35, noting that many in her family have the disease. “With my family there is not a huge focus on nutrition, proper diet and the importance of physical activity.”

A member of the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic teams, Dawes was tapped by President Obama as co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. In honor of Diabetes Awareness Month, Dawes paired with Howard and Cumberland Packing, the New York company that produces the sugar substitute “Sweet N Low.”

As part of the effort, Howard is offering free diabetes screenings, which include blood pressure and glucose tests.

Dominique Dawes, right, greets patients Angela and Steve Truly, left, at the Howard University Diabetes Treatment Center. (Hamil R. Harris - The Washington Post)
Steve Truly, 66, was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago and was happy to meet Dawes.

“I am impressed that she had stayed in this area all of these years,” said Truly one of the many patients waiting to see a physician.

Gayle Bland, Medical Director for the Diabetes Treatment Center at Howard, applauded Dawes for coming to the hospital to shed light on a disease that is very manageable if people to their part.

“When you are diagnosed with diabetes you can manage it with your diet and exercise,” Bland said. “We have found that the patients come here for diabetes education do better.”

Education is the key, Dawes said.

“Being in the sports world for more than 20 years I was taught about calories, proper nutrition and moderation, but a lot of people were not raised in the same environment,” Dawes said. “At the Presidents council we have been educating people on the smart choices they can make and then empowering them to make a life style commitment.”

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