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Odds are you know at least one person with diabetes. And the odds are even greater that you know one of the 86 million Americans with prediabetes. Yes, that’s 86 million people. The thing is, only 9 million of those with prediabetes know they have it and 15 to 30 percent of them will develop type 2 diabetes within five years. It’s a big problem, especially when you consider that diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent prediabetes from turning into full-blown type 2 diabetes.
“Prediabetes is a condition in which an individual has high blood glucose or hemoglobin A1C levels but they are not high enough for the person to be classified as a diabetic,” explains Debbie Bena, MA, BSN, health ministries coordinator for MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. “By developing and maintaining healthy lifestyle changes, prediabetes can be reversed.” To help area residents with prediabetes learn how to address the condition before it becomes more serious, MedStar Good Samaritan launched a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Change Program two years ago. A structured program, it was developed specifically for people who have prediabetes or are at risk for type 2 diabetes, but who do not already have diabetes. The hospital has applied for and anticipates recognition of the program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The year-long program features a CDC-approved curriculum and trained lifestyle coaches who closely support participants. And it’s not a quick fix. Rather, it’s focused on long-term changes and lasting results. Leslea Jackson is proof that the program works.
“I had been diagnosed by my endocrinologist, who I see for another condition, as prediabetic. He told me I was going to develop diabetes if I didn’t do something about it. Diabetes runs in my family and I know how debilitating it can be. With a 13-year-old daughter, I didn’t want to face that,” she says. “Then I ran into Deb Bena at a wedding … she is married to a good friend of my family … and the topic of diabetes came up. When she told me about her program, I thought I’d give it a try.” Since starting the program, Jackson has lost 51 pounds and both her cholesterol and A1C levels are normal. The group-based program consists of 16 sessions, which are completed in six months, followed by six monthly sessions led by a trained lifestyle coach who facilitates a small group of people with similar goals. The group support is just as important as the coaching.
“We discuss topics such as healthy eating, increasing physical activity and losing weight, as well as behavioral changes,” says Bena, who also is a trained lifestyle coach. “A goal of the program is to help participants lose five to seven percent of their body weight.” Research has shown that if a person with prediabetes loses just five to seven percent of their body weight through healthier eating and 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, it can cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. “For a person who weighs 200 pounds, that means losing just 10 to 14 pounds. It doesn’t take a drastic weight loss to make a big impact,” Bena notes. “Leslea lost more than 25 percent of her body weight!” Since the program at MedStar Good Samaritan began, 60 people have enrolled. Most people sign up because they are overweight. Classes are held at various community-based sites and new programs are always being started so that individuals interested in participating don’t have to wait long for a new class to begin. “The key to the program is to follow all the steps,” Bena says. “If you do that, the weight comes off in no time.”
Jackson explained that one of the ways the program helped her was by forcing her to track everything she ate. “I became much more aware of what and how much I was eating,” she says. “Today I am eating a lot better. I eat less fat, smaller portions, more salad and fruit, and more white meat. Sharing the experience with other participants was helpful, too. We’d talk about different foods and exchange ideas about ways to prepare things.” Now averaging about 142 pounds, Jackson says she looks and feels a lot better. “My daughter, Marlee, teases me about my skinny legs. But she’s glad that I signed up for the program and knows I’m much healthier.”
This article appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.