Cedar Rapids YMCA program aims to prevent diabetes before it starts

More than 1 in 3 Americans are prediabetic, but coaching can change that

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YMCA logo

Kris Hale wanted to learn from her father’s experiences. For years he suffered from type 2 diabetes. So when she had a chance to be screened for her likelihood to develop the condition herself, she took it.

“My dad was diabetic and became so later in life, when he was about 10 years older than I am now,” she says. “I’m trying to prevent the struggles he had.”

A blood test revealed her blood sugar levels were higher than normal, just over the threshold before developing diabetes. She is considered prediabetic, and she’s not alone — about 86 million Americans over age 20, more than 1 in 3 — are prediabetic.

Kim Jass-Ramirez, Cedar Rapids Metro YMCA Health and Wellness Director, says many people may not realize they’re at risk.

“Some people maybe don’t want to admit that they’re prediabetic. It’s all ages and body types and people that may have pre-diabetes. It’s tough for some people to come to terms with,” she says.

Even knowing her father’s history, Hale’s test results came as a shock. But she says she’s glad she knows, because it means she can do something about it.

Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 15 to 30 percent of people with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within five years. A program launched recently at the Cedar Rapids Metro YMCA aims to help more people keep from developing the condition.


Hale was one of the first participants to sign up, part of a pilot session that started in January. A second session starts at the beginning of March, with registration open now.

The initiative, part of a national effort by the YMCA, is based on a 2002 study led by the National Institutes of Health with support from the Centers for Disease Control. The study found that participants receiving Diabetes Prevention Program coaching to address nutrition and exercise reduced their chance of developing diabetes by 58 percent. For adults over age 60, the reduction was 71 percent.

Though the class includes membership to the YMCA, its focus is on regular meetings of participants, which functions as a kind of support group. Jass-Ramirez said that is key to the program’s success.

“I think we know how to lose weight, so this is not just a weight loss program,” she says. “What’s different about what we’re doing is the group support.”

She says class members help each other by sharing ideas, supporting each other and acting as accountability partners.

The sessions are classroom-based. Participants weigh-in confidentially, keep food logs and have a different discussion topic each week. They can use the YMCA membership to then work out on their own time.

“The focus they take is a coaching focus. They give ideas, but ultimately, you’re the one doing it,” Jass-Ramirez says.

The program lasts 12 months, with 16 one-hour weekly sessions, followed by monthly sessions led by a trained lifestyle coach. Group members discuss topics such as healthy eating, exercise, reducing stress, problem solving and more.


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By eating less fat and fewer calories and exercising for a total of 150 minutes a week, group members aim to lose 7 percent of their body weight and maintain that loss.

The program costs $429 for a year, which includes membership to the YMCA — membership normally costs $730 a year. Grant money is available to pay for some need-based scholarships, and some employers may purchase the program for employees if it falls into their wellness plans.

For Hale, the program is worth it.

“I’m just trying to be smart about it,” she says. “I’m hoping it will give me a kick-start.”

Want to participate in the class?
Call Sarah Hoeger, associate branch director at YMCA at Mercy Health Plaza, at (319) 378-5955.
Who should be tested for pre-diabetes and diabetes?
The American Diabetes Association recommends that testing to detect pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes be considered in adults without symptoms who are overweight or obese and have one or more additional risk factors for diabetes. In those without these risk factors, testing should begin at age 45.

Risk factors for pre-diabetes and diabetes-in addition to being overweight or obese or being age 45 or older-include:
Being physically inactive

Having a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes

Having a family background that is African American, Alaska Native, Native American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander

Giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or being diagnosed with gestational diabetes-diabetes first found during pregnancy

Having high blood pressure-140/90 mmHg or above-or being treated for high blood pressure

Having HDL, or “good,” cholesterol below 35 mg/dL, or a triglyceride level above 250 mg/dL

Having polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS

Having impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) on previous testing
Having other conditions associated with insulin resistance, such as severe obesity or a condition called acanthosis nigricans, characterized by a dark, velvety rash around the neck or armpits
Having a history of cardiovascular disease
If results of testing are normal, testing should be repeated at least every 3 years. Doctors may recommend more frequent testing depending on initial results and risk status.

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