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Local YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program

Written by  Suzanne Ramsey

Yearlong program aimed at those with prediabetes - YMCA of Roanoke Valley, which has branches in Roanoke and Salem, will soon launch the Diabetes Prevention Program. The yearlong educational course aims to help area adults who have been diagnosed with prediabetes or are at risk for Type 2 diabetes make lifestyle changes that can help them avoid or delay onset of the diabetes.

The program is an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that 1 in 3 American adults have prediabetes and most — about 90 percent — don’t even know it. Prediabetes, as explained by the CDC, is when the blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Prediabetes: Am I at risk?
You may be at risk for Type 2 diabetes if you
•    Are 45 years of age or older.
•    Are overweight.
•    Have a family history of Type 2 diabetes.
•    Have high blood pressure.
•    Are physically active fewer than three times per week.
•    Ever had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes) or gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.

Having prediabetes puts people at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, previously called adult-onset diabetes. The American Diabetes Association reports that 29 million Americans — more than 9 percent of the population — have diabetes, and that nearly all of them have Type 2 diabetes. Due to the well-documented childhood obesity epidemic, physicians are increasingly seeing Type 2 diabetes in children as well.

To localize these numbers, consider that 9 percent of the population of the city of Roanoke is about 9,000 people. In the city of Salem, it’s about 2,250 people.

What is Type 2 diabetes?
Diabetes is a problem that causes blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise higher than normal, called hyperglycemia. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. With Type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly, which is known as insulin resistance. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin, but over time it isn't able to keep up and can't make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels.
Source: American Diabetes Association

Seeing that there was a problem in the area and wanting to do something about it, YMCA of Roanoke Valley has joined more than 625 organizations, including about 165 YMCAs nationwide, that are certified to offer the Diabetes Prevention Program.

“A couple of years ago, we went through a process in our association to create our strategic plan,” says Tricia Reynolds, branch executive at the Salem Family YMCA. “Part of that was going into the community to talk to stakeholders about what the Y can do in the Roanoke Valley. One of the things that came out of that is diabetes prevention.”

Roanoke Valley’s pilot program will begin in January 2016. It will be offered at the Salem Family YMCA.

The primary goals of the Diabetes Prevention Program are for participants to lose weight and get more active, actions that have been shown to decrease the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. According to the Y’s fact sheet, the specific goals are reducing body weight by 7 percent and increasing physical activity to 150 minutes per week.

The one-hour, small-group classes will be held on weeknights and will be taught by a certified lifestyle coach. The emphasis will be on making healthy lifestyle changes.

“They have different topics that they talk about every week,” says Ashley Lynn, chronic disease coordinator for YMCA of Roanoke Valley. “They talk about how to read food labels and how to manage stress, problem solve, prepare for success, deal with setbacks and increase their physical activity.

“It’s kind of a classroom setting, but really a facilitated discussion too. There’s a lesson plan, but we want people to talk and discuss and help each other problem solve the problems that arise throughout the program. The life coach is there to provide education and support through the process.”

Participants will meet weekly for the first four months, twice a month for the next two months, and then monthly for six months. Throughout the program, participants track their progress by recording their meals and physical activity using food and exercise logs and being weighed at each meeting. Data gathered from participants are passed on to the YMCA's national headquarters and the CDC.

While the program does not include workout sessions, Lynn anticipates many participants will form friendships and find workout buddies among their classmates.

“A lot of other associations have found out that groups bond and start doing things together,” says Reynolds.

The Diabetes Prevention Program is open to adults ages 18 and older, and YMCA membership is not a requirement. The current plan, at least for the pilot program, is for local physicians to refer their patients to the program. That way, Reynolds explains, physicians can be updated on their patient’s progress and provide additional support.

The YMCA wants to partner with Carilion Clinic and other local organizations to offer the program in the greater community, particularly in low-income areas such as Northwest and Southeast Roanoke. Reynolds says the Y is working on grants so they can provide financial assistance for those who can’t afford the $429 program fee. Some insurance plans might cover the program or reimburse participants.

Diabetes causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.
Source: American Diabetes Association

YMCA of the USA reports that between 2010 — when it started offering the Diabetes Prevention Program — and December 2014, more than 27,000 people participated in the program. Classes have been held at 1,095 different sites in 42 states. Participants have averaged a 4.6 percent decrease in body weight in the first four months of the program and a 5.6 percent decrease within 12 months. By the end of the program, they averaged 117 minutes of physical activity per week.

While YMCA of Roanoke Valley can’t yet provide statistics, Lynn seems confident that the program will have a positive impact locally.

“It’s really designed to empower the person and not just give them a lot of information, to walk through the process with them and support them along the way, to encourage them to take the reins and learn how to do this on their own so they’re successful. We want to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes so they can live healthier and more active lives. There’s been a lot of success with this program nationally,” Lynn says.

Prediabetes fast facts:
What is prediabetes?
Having prediabetes means the blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Nearly 90 percent of adults who have prediabetes don’t know they have it.

How many people have prediabetes?
In 2012, 86 million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes, up from 79 million in 2010.
Source: American Diabetes Association

What’s the big deal?
Those with prediabetes who don’t lose weight or increase their physical activity could develop Type 2 diabetes within five years. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to health issues such as
•    Heart attack.
•    Stroke.
•    Blindness.
•    Kidney failure.
•    Loss of toes, feet or legs.

How can I prevent Type 2 diabetes?
Having prediabetes does not mean a person will develop Type 2 diabetes. For some with prediabetes, early treatment can return blood glucose levels to the normal range. Research shows that the risk for Type 2 diabetes can be lowered by 58 percent by
•    Losing 7 percent of body weight (or 15 pounds for a 200-pound individual).
•    Exercising moderately (such as brisk walking) 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Losing even 10 to 15 pounds can make a huge difference.
Source: American Diabetes Association

More information on the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program can be found at