The New York City YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program

At 330 pounds, Kerry Watterson was tired of not being able to fit into his seat on an airplane. He had a family history of type 2 diabetes, and although doctors said his blood sugar was still at a normal level, he knew it was time to make a change. “I found out about the YDPP [YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program], called the director, and said, ‘I want to do this.’ I’m so glad she took me,” he says now, one year later.

Approximately 23 percent, or 1.4 million, of adult New Yorkers have prediabetes, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Prediabetes is diagnosed when people have glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type 2. The impact of type 2 diabetes is costly for the patient as well as the healthcare industry. According to the NYC DOHMH, there are an estimated $6.6 billion in annual costs in NYC alone.

This is where preventive programs such as the YDPP in New York City show great promise. It is based on the original US Diabetes Prevention Program and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the CDC, which showed that lifestyle changes and a five to seven percent weight reduction prevents or delays the onset of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. The YMCA’s DPP is offered with support from United Health Group and the CDC, and represents the first time a health plan is covering diabetes prevention services.

Launched in New York City in the fall of 2010, the YDPP has recently expanded to include 21 new classes at 18 YMCA branches across the five boroughs. The sixteen-week workshops consist of a group-based “intervention” designed for people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Judy Ouziel, Senior Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at the YMCA of Greater New York, says that a YMCA lifestyle coach helps participants eat healthier, increase their physical activity, and learn about other behavior modifications. After the initial core sessions, participants meet monthly for added support to help them maintain their progress.

“The beauty of this program is the bonding between the participants,” she says. “It becomes like a support group. People are so scared that they are going to end up with complications like their mother or grandfather when they come in here, and they don’t want to end up like that. We had a single mother and her daughter who said exercising and coming to the classes brought them closer together. We love to hear these stories.”

Classes involve lectures with weekly themes such as: understanding the food pyramid, food triggers, and exercise. “We were asked to keep food and activity journals,” Watterson says. “So when I broke down and ate Ben and Jerry’s, I had to write it in my journal and share it with the group. Hearing the struggles and success stories within the group allowed for open and honest conversations.”

Watterson reports that information was presented in a tangible way for participants. “The program helped me realize that even moderate exercise will help,” he comments. The program goal was to lose seven percent of body weight during the 16 weeks. Watterson met his goal two weeks after the program ended, going from 330 down to 286 pounds. “It really worked for me,” he says. “Seeing my mom made me want to change the future for myself.”


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