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YMCA kicks off diabetes prevention program

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The Sonoma County YMCA recently started a diabetes prevention program to improve health throughout the county.

The program, which is funded by a federal Community Transformation grant given to the county and allocated to the YMCA for the diabetes program, runs over a course of 18 months. It is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Diabetes Prevention Program. YMCAs across the United States are starting the program as part of a national effort to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood sugar with insulin resistance and deficiency. Type 2 diabetes is of particular concern in the U.S. as it accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults and is the seventh leading cause of death in the nation. Obesity is considered the primary cause of type 2 diabetes.

In the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, 79 million Americans ages 20 and older have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be properly considered diabetes. Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, according to the CDC.

The YMCA program is based on the idea, as indicated by CDC and NIH studies, that by losing weight and increasing physical activity, the risk of people with prediabetes developing cases of type 2 diabetes is significantly lowered – with the development of diabetes either diverted or delayed.

The Sonoma County YMCA, based in Santa Rosa, received funding for the program in May, but did not start classes until October, said county YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program Coordinator Nicole Martinovich.

To qualify for the program, individuals must be over 18 and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or greater, putting them under the medical classification of “overweight.” They must also be considered at high risk of developing prediabetes or have been diagnosed with prediabetes.

Over a 12-month period, program participants attend 16 classes where they begin tracking what they are eating and learn about healthy food alternatives and lifestyle modifications. At week five of the program, participants begin tracking exercise and are even offered a free three-month membership at the YMCA, giving them access to a range of exercise classes.

The last part of the program is focused more on psychological aspects of the disease, and addresses issues such as why people eat certain foods and how to deal with sticking to a meal plan in certain social situations. “We think food is so simple and you just eat it, but when you break it down, it is quite influential on our lives,” Martinovich said.

The two main goals of participants in the program are reducing their body weight by 7 percent, and increasing physical activity to 150 minutes a week. NIH research shows this small weight reduction and increase in physical activity can have marked impact on preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes, Martinovich notes.

“The nature of it is really about seeing what you are doing now and changing it to make it agreeable to your lifestyle,” Martinovich said, noting the program focuses on small changes that are reasonable in hopes that they will last for the remainder of each participant’s life. “It’s about seeing what is going on in each person’s life and seeing where (they) can make adjustments (they) can live with.”

Martinovich has worked at various YMCAs for 20 years, is a former schoolteacher and acupuncturist, and teaches exercise classes at the Santa Rosa YMCA. Prior to holding the first class this fall, she trained for the diabetes program at YMCA headquarters in Chicago. Later, seven of her peers were trained locally to become lifestyle coaches and prepare to instruct the program. Twelve people enrolled in the program and attended the first class, Martinovich said. The goal is to have the maximum of 15 people in four classes at the end of the 18-month grant period.

Martinovich said while the program does focus on adults, she and her colleagues are hopeful their work will also impact children in the homes of adult participants. “If adults make positive changes, they are likely to trickle down,” she explained.

The program costs $429 a year, and to make it affordable, Sonoma County gave the YMCA pilot funding to reduce fees for individuals on MediCal, or uninsured, to $75. Martinovich said people who have insurance but are low-income may be eligible for assistance through YMCA’s financial aid, which can reduce costs by up to 35 percent.

In an effort to expand the program, reaching people across the county, Martinovich is working with local hospitals and clinics through referral programs. Recently, she reached out to the Parent Teacher Student Association at Prestwood Elementary School and Sonoma Valley Hospital.

“If our country continues on this (current) path,” Martinovich said, “national statistics indicate one out of three children will develop type 2 diabetes.” Medical expenses for people with diabetes are nearly double those without, Martinovich said, adding people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or contract heart disease. “If we reach parents and we have impact on them, they can have an impact on the children.”

Martinovich said the second and third classes, which will focus on identifying and eliminating foods high in fat, are scheduled for January and February. For more information on the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program, visit scfymca.com, or contact Martinovich at 545-9622 ext. 3412 or email nmartinovich@scfymca.org. The Sonoma County Family YMCA is located at 1111 College Ave., Santa Rosa.