FARMINGTON — After he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes three years ago, University of Maine at Farmington student Michael Colella wanted to do something to raise awareness about the disease.

He participated in the Walk to Stop Diabetes in Boston, a national event sponsored by the American Diabetes Association; but finding similar events in Maine was harder, said Colella, who is originally from Waterville and is majoring in community health at UMF.

“Growing up, I never really thought that much about my diet or how much I exercised,” said Colella, 23. “It was kind of a shock when I was diagnosed. I didn’t see it coming, but now I kind of see it as a blessing because I am much more aware of those things.”

In 2012, 21.9 million Americans had diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, a group that works to prevent and cure diabetes through advocacy and fundraising efforts. The disease is a metabolic disorder that causes blood sugar levels to remain high over long periods of time and is broken down into two types: Type I diabetes, which is caused by the body’s failure to produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates metabolism; and Type II diabetes, in which the cells of the body fail to use insulin properly.

Increased hunger and thirst and frequent urination are side effects of diabetes, which can also lead to more serious complications like kidney failure, heart disease and muscle weakness.

On Saturday, about 60 people attended Community Walk to Stop Diabetes Walk ‘n’ Talk, a community day and walk organized by Colella in downtown Farmington to raise awareness about diabetes and living a healthy lifestyle, which can help mitigate the effects and lower the risk of diabetes. The event helped raise about $2,700 to be donated to the American Diabetes Association, exceeding Colella’s original goal of $2,600.

“It just helps bring it to people’s attention,” said Hayley Smith-Rose, a participant in the 1-mile walk and a 2014 graduate of UMF. “I think there are probably a lot of people who don’t know just how many people are affected by diabetes.”

During a talk about physical fitness and health, Alison Thayer, physical health education coordinator for UMF, talked about overcoming her own weight problem and unhealthy eating habits while she was a student at the university. Her advice to the community was to make small changes in diet and exercise that in the long run will add up to big changes.

“With diet, I just started choosing one thing at a time. I was addicted to french fries. I loved french fries and still do — but I put mayonnaise on them, which was superbad, so I decided to eliminate french fries. That was the first thing; then it was ice cream, and then it was soda,” Thayer said. “As I started to feel better, I realized it wasn’t so hard to just go a week without those things. It really was like a snowball effect. I picked up more healthy habits and dropped more of the bad habits.”

She also advised attendees to take time to care for their own bodies, making it a priority in the same way that many people take extra care in doing a good job at work or caring for their families.

“There’s so much to do in life,” Thayer said. “Your body is the only one you have to experience that. The only way to do that is to take care of your health and put that at the top of your list.”

The Healthy Community Coalition, a project of the Franklin Community Health Network, was also on hand with a mobile clinic that was offering free body composition analysis, a tool that is used to measure body mass and percentage body fat as a way to help people plan fitness goals.

“I’ve always grown up knowing what I need to do to be healthy, but this really solidified the idea that I’m on the right track,” said Grace Toles, 22, a student at UMF who has Type I diabetes and was participating in the walk.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.