Prediabetes is a silent epidemic in Hawai’i—however, it’s a condition that can be reversed with clear goals, and simple steps.
A silent epidemic
There’s an epidemic raging in Hawai’i, one that can cause serious health complications that include heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and even lower-extremity amputations.
That epidemic is diabetes, a chronic disease in which blood sugar levels are above normal. Thanks in large part to our modern lifestyle and dietary habits, diabetes is now the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.
A person with pre-diabetes has a blood sugar level higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. Health researchers estimate that 40% of people in Hawai’i have pre-diabetes, but that only 12% of them know it. This lack of awareness could easily lead to full-blown diabetes.
A reversible condition
It’s easy to find out if you have pre-diabetes—a simple blood test will reveal what your blood sugar levels are. And the good news is, pre-diabetes is treatable by adopting lifestyle changes such as eating healthier foods and getting more exercise.
Helping people achieve these goals is precisely what a new program at the YMCA of Honolulu is all about. As part of the YMCA’s nationwide Diabetes Prevention Program, the new program was developed in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
According to Valerie Lawson, who helps train Healthy Living coaches for the YMCA around the country, it’s all part of the YMCA’s new mission “to promote healthy aging and chronic disease prevention in 10,000 communities nationwide. We see the YMCA as being uniquely positioned to serve as an extension of the healthcare system with programs like this one.
“Our program has very specific goals,” says Valerie. “Those goals are: 7% weight loss—that’s 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person — and an increase in physical activity, such as brisk walking, to 150 minutes per week.”
Clear goals, simple steps
Although these sound like simple goals, they can be extremely challenging. Erin Farmer directs the Diabetes Prevention Program at the YMCA of Honolulu: “Our program is made up of groups of 12 to 15 people who commit to attending 25 sessions during the course of one year. Each participant gets support from the rest of the group, laying the groundwork for individuals to have success.
“The first four months are very intensive, with a lot of focus on nutrition and diet. This can be difficult for many people because food is an emotional subject and we all like to eat what we eat. We try to encourage participants to be open to trying new things, or preparing food in a way that may be different from what they’re used to. Then we help them fit these goals into their own unique situations in sustainable ways.”
Finding the exercise that’s right for you
Erin knows that people have different tastes and tolerances for exercise. “150 minutes a week is our target goal, but it doesn’t have to be at the Y. Fortunately, participation in the program includes a 3-month membership at the Y, so a lot of new and different options are made available to you: Try the pool, try a gym class, meet with a trainer—you may find something here that you really like.”
As time goes on, the program’s Healthy Living coaches gradually transfer responsibility to the participants, who become more and more empowered to take responsibility for their own progress. “We’ve actually had participants who later become coaches,” says Valerie. “It’s all about learning to meet people where they are, without judgment.”
Proven success that pays dividends
Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health has shown that programs like the YMCA’s can reduce the number of cases of type 2 diabetes by almost 60%. And the good news is, many insurers (including UHA and, starting in 2018, Medicare) already recognize that covering preventative programs like these can actually yield significant savings over time through the reduction of more serious conditions later.
“We already have programs running on O’ahu, and very soon we’ll be introducing them on Maui and the Big Island as well,” says Erin. “If your doctor tells you that you’re at risk for diabetes, contact the Y now to find out more!”
The Diabetes Prevention Program at the YMCA of Honolulu
Cost: $429/year (includes 3-month membership at the YMCA)
Locations: O’ahu (currently); Maui (beginning in August/September); Hawai’i (later this year)
For more information, please contact Noel at 808-548-0951 or the YMCA nearest you.