Small steps can stop diabetes

  • By Deanna Duff, Special to The Herald
  • Wednesday, June 12, 2013 12:55pm
  • Life

The most effective prediabetes treatment is inexpensive, uncomplicated and better than any pill.

Lifestyle changes are clinically proven to reduce the risk of diabetes by 58 percent compared to 31 percent for leading medications.

Washington state is currently a national leader in implementing the Diabetes Prevention Program and supporting citizens to become their own best remedy.

“About 30 percent of the adult population already has prediabetes, but only 10 percent of them know it,” said Wendy Bart, chairwoman of the Washington State Diabetes Network Leadership Team and a vice president with the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “A big piece of the Diabetes Prevention Program is increasing awareness and education that one in three adults is at significant risk.”

The DPP is part of the Centers for Disease Control’s efforts to address the national diabetes epidemic.

About $198 billion is spent annually on diabetes-related health care. It’s projected to be $500 billion yearly by 2020. Washington is one of eight states to receive funding to offer DPP.

Group Health has offered the program at the Everett Medical Center and in Olympia, and the YMCA continues to add sites statewide. The YMCA of Snohomish County is launching DPP at its Marysville location beginning July 15.

Small changes, big impact

Diabetes refers to how the body processes blood glucose, also known as blood sugar.

Prediabetes leads to type 2 diabetes. Also known as adult-onset diabetes, it is now being diagnosed in children as young as 10 years old.

Both pre- and type 2 diabetes are strongly linked to obesity. Age, ethnicity and genetics are contributing factors. It is the leading cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic amputations, new cases of blindness and a host of other health complications.

The encouraging fact is that research shows that losing even 2.2 pounds begins reducing the risk of developing the disease.

“Small changes make huge differences,” Bart said. “Many of us get caught up in wanting to get back to our ‘game weight’ — what we weighed in high school or at our fittest — but a small amount of change truly influences your health.”

DPP is a yearlong program that focuses on healthier eating habits and increased exercise. It is open to pre-diabetic individuals 18 years and older. Eligibility can be verified through a doctor’s diagnosis or by taking a test that is available through the CDC and YMCA websites.

Participants must also have a body mass index of 25 and above, classifying them as overweight.

Participants meet weekly for one hour for 16 weeks, then monthly for the remaining time. Private weigh-ins start each meeting and individuals are expected to diligently track food and physical activity.

The goal for the 12 months is to increase physical activity by 150 minutes weekly and lose 5 percent to 7 percent of total body weight, the amount demonstrated to dramatically reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent for the general population and 71 percent for adults 60 years old and older.

The findings were a result of a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health in 2002.

“So much of our health is based on our own choices,” said Lynnette Monpas, YMCA’s program coordinator for diabetes prevention.

Her grandfather suffered from heart disease, weight problems and prediabetes, and died at age 62.

“The obesity factor is one of the biggest things we can personally impact to reduce our health risks,” Monpas said.

Team effort

It’s no secret that exercise and better eating habits improve general health, but it can be a challenge doing it alone. A core component of DDP’s success is the group dynamic. Groups are usually kept to a maximum of 15 to ensure interaction and attention from DPP coaches.

“One of the most powerful aspects of the program is that people give each other a lot of encouragement,” said Kimberly Wicklund, manager of health information and promotion for Group Health Cooperative.

Wicklund was one of two lifestyle coaches who oversaw Group Health’s Everett and Olympia DPP groups, now concluded.

“We found that people shared a lot of strategies,” Wicklund said. “One couple was going to Disney World and looked up menus before traveling and purchased food options in advance. Others who worked together began walking at lunch.”

After a troubling doctor’s report, Sharon Knight enrolled in the Shoreline YMCA’s program the day before Thanksgiving 2012.

Despite holiday temptations and a busy schedule, she has lost 10 percent of her body weight after six months, better results than previous programs she tried.

“I was surprised that I didn’t have to do that much,” Knight said.

“I never felt pressured. Everything is kept confidential, like the weigh-ins, so there isn’t a competitive feeling. Everyone is very positive.”

In addition to the health benefits, Knight values the cost effectiveness of DDP. The YMCA charges $250 for members and $325 for non-members. Some insurance companies cover the costs.

“Diabetes is an expensive disease both for your health and pocketbook,” she said. “The cost of this (DDP) is nothing compared to having diabetes.”

“This program and approach have been found to work for everyone regardless of age, gender or ethnic group,” Bart said. “The beauty of the program is its simplicity.

“People who go through DDP can’t speak highly enough about the experience. As one participant told us, ‘These days, it just feels great to be alive.’ “

Learn more

For more information about the YMCA of Snohomish County’s Diabetes Prevention Program, contact Lynnette Monpas at 360-805-1879 or

Quick facts

  • Diabetes affects 25.8 million people in the United States.
  • Recent research indicates that 79 million Americans older than 20 have prediabetes.
  • About 30 percent of the adult population already has prediabetes, but only 10 percent is aware.
  • $198 billion is spent annually on diabetes-related health care. It’s projected to be $500 billion yearly by 2020.
  • Losing 5 percent to 7 percent of your total body weight reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent for the general population, 71 percent for adults 60 years older.
  • Those with type 2 diabetes are 50 percent more likely to die than peers of the same age without diabetes.
  • Those with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or die from heart disease.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in people 20 to 74 years old.
  • Diabetes increases the risk for dental disease, lower limb amputation, depression and more.

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