Cycling initiative in Italy: “Diabete a Ruota Libera”

29 September 2023

On September 1-3, the C.R.A.D. FVG-ODV (Regional Coordination of Diabetes Associations) in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy, with the organizational and scientific support of the healthcare professionals of the Monfalcone medical center, organized the second edition of the diabetes awareness bicycle ride, “Diabete a Ruota Libera”. For many years, healthcare professionals of the Monfalcone medical center, alongside people living with diabetes (PwD) in the region, have been working on promoting the importance of physical activity for PwD and on expanding knowledge to support the adequate management the condition while practicing sports.

The event was a great success with more than 130 participants each day cycling up to 100km per day across the entire region. Several walks were also organized with the support of local tour guides for those who were unable, or preferred not, to cycle. The initiative brought together the regional network of healthcare services, local businesses, institutions and policymakers around the topics of diabetes and physical activity. The aim of the event was to stress the fact that diabetes does not represent an obstacle to living a full life and that sport can be a costless medicine” with no contraindications for people at risk of developing, or living with, diabetes.

During the three-day bicycle ride, participants stopped in 12 municipalities where they were warmly welcomed by local communities, representatives of local and regional governments, healthcare professionals and policymakers. Each stop represented a key opportunity for sharing information about diabetes prevention and management and for raising awareness of the benefits of physical activity with the participation of diabetes experts. As part of the event, blood sugar and blood pressure tests were also organized by Red Cross volunteers.

Commenting on the initiative, Riccardo Candido, Associate Professor of Endocrinology, AMD Elected President, highlighted the relevance of diabetes awareness events for the region: “In Friuli Venezia Giulia, there are approximately 100,000 people living with diabetes and about 30,000 people who are undiagnosed. Promoting the importance of practicing sports to have a healthy lifestyle effectively means intervening on the health of citizens and those living with the condition. In Italy, more than 30% of PwD have a sedentary lifestyle and our region is no exception: an extremely worrying fact that requires a change of course.”

Diabetes is often overshadowed by other healthcare issues at national and regional levels in Europe despite its huge burden on people, healthcare systems and societies. “Diabete a Ruota Libera” put a spotlight on this issue, gathered key stakeholders around the topic and gained strong media coverage.

Elena Frattolin, CRAD President and IDF Europe Board Member, stated that: “Not only this event has been a success for C.R.A.D. FVG-ODV, local associations and the regional Diabetes Network involved in its organization, but it also underlined the need for diabetes to be higher on the political agenda.”

The success of the initiative was the result of the strong collaboration between a wide range of stakeholders who combined their roles and expertise to support the organization of the event. Diabetologists and dietitians from the Monfalcone medical center, and especially Dr. Roberta Assaloni, Dr. Roberto da Ros and Dr. Silvana Cum, actively engaged in the ideation and realisation of the initiative. They have made available the expertise they have consolidated over the years in this area to actively collaborate in the conception and implementation of the initiate. The Center has in fact been promoting a unique regional school camp for the past eight years on the management of type 1 diabetes when practicing physical activity. Healthcare professionals of the regional diabetes network contributed to the event by sharing information on the role of healthy lifestyle for diabetes prevention and management; the Friuli Venezia Giulia regional government integrated the promotion of the local cultural and natural heritage in the event; the Air Force and the Ministry of Interior alongside the Police Headquarters of Udine, Pordenone, Gorizia and Trieste, facilitated the delivery of information to citizens on important issues relating to safety, health and quality of life; while the Mosaic School of Friuli hosted the press conference for the event opening and offered guided tours to cyclists and the public.

Several supporters from the national and international diabetes community also took part in the event, including Prof. Tadej Battelino, IDF Europe Chair-Elect, who defined the initiative as an “inspiration to the daily work of researchers”, Stefano Nervo, President of Diabete Italia, and Monica Priore, President of Feder Diabetici Puglia and Board Member of Diabete Italia.

By combining sports with health recommendations and the promotion of the local region, “Diabete a Ruota Libera” represents an interesting initiative that could be replicated in other regions and/or countries to increase public awareness of diabetes, promote the adoption of healthy lifestyles and strengthen collaboration between stakeholders who can contribute to improving citizens’ quality of life at the local level.