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YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program: A Window of Opportunity

Debby LaCruz on the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

In April 2012, I talked with Debby LaCruz, Association Healthy Living Director at the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, about the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. For Throwback Thursday I thought it would be neat to touch base with Debby to see how the program has evolved in the past two years. Debby also put me in touch with someone she points to as a “program success story,” Jaronda Little, for an inside look at how the program works.

An Evolving Program

Offering personalized support is one way the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program has progressed. “I think we’re getting better at group facilitation and helping people find their own ideas,” Debby said. “When the ideas come from a participant, they’re more likely to carry them through, in my experience. From beginning to end, the program is about empowering people.”

One of Debby’s goals is to raise awareness about type 2 diabetes. “Our challenge is always getting the message out,” she said. “In the past couple of years I’ve found that when some people get a diagnosis of prediabetes, they think they’re off the hook. But prediabetes is something to be concerned about. To me, it’s a window of opportunity to learn and change.”

The Birmingham YMCA has had a busy few years with their Diabetes Prevention Program. More than 500 people have participated in the program since its inception in 2010, with three classes launched this year and plans for 12 more. “We’re having a great time,” Debby said. “We hope to bring the program to work sites, as well, this year. A goal for me is to see us outside the doors of the YMCA, offering the program out in the community. I would love to see that happen.”

Jaronda Little
Jaronda Little

The program has grown nationally as well. Debby is a part of a team of trainers that travels across the country to prepare other lifestyle coaches to facilitate the program using a standardized curriculum. Birmingham was one of the nine original model sites and now there are more than 800 sites in 41 states, with more than 20,000 participants in the diabetes prevention education classes. Each participant has their own reasons for joining, like Jaronda.

Motivated to Make Changes

With a family history of type 2 diabetes on her mother’s side, Jaronda was concerned about her own risk factors for developing diabetes. Watching her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother as they managed complications associated with diabetes encouraged Jaronda to try to take control of her health. She joined the Birmingham YMCA in 2012 and was intrigued to learn about their diabetes prevention program. “I was glad to learn that there are things you can do to try to prevent type 2 diabetes and that it’s not just a rite of passage,” she said. “I had for so long thought that it might be, for me.”

An Enthusiastic Participant

In January 2013, she joined the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, attending weekly sessions for 16 weeks. “I was enthusiastic about participating,” she said. “I attended every single one of those classes over the 16 weeks. It was worth every hour, every week that I attended.” Weekly topics included an overview of diabetes, how nutrition affects your health, tracking food intake, dining out and getting back on track with health goals.

Each week the group would discuss goals with the lifestyle coach. “We always ended with, ‘Okay, here are the things I’m going to focus on for the next week,’” Jaronda said. “The regular goal was to continue to work toward 150 minutes of physical activity for the week, plus keep a food journal. When I was in a weekly group, I was focused. I knew that each week I had somebody looking over my shoulder. That helped me be accountable and encouraged me if I did fall off the wagon.”

Working full time presented some challenges for Jaronda. She committed to attending the weekly meetings during her lunch hour, and exercised after work. “You’ve got to try to figure out how you can fit fitness into your lifestyle,” she said. “I just made it a priority. I became more involved in different classes at the Y as a way to increase my physical activity to 150 minutes a week.”

Jaronda found the group support helpful. “We all just shared our stories,” she said. “We shared either our successes or our struggles. We problem solved together. We came up with great ideas for different healthy recipes and options for physical activity. One of my classmates encouraged me to start my own little patio garden; I grew my own fresh tomatoes and herbs last summer and it was so much fun.”

Meeting – and Exceeding – Her Goals

After attending the 16 weekly sessions and increasing her physical activity, Jaronda lost weight and met the weight goal set by her doctor. She actually surpassed the goal of exercising 150 minutes a week, and is now exercising about 270 minutes a week.

Finding Local Support

For those interested in joining a Diabetes Prevention Program locally, Debby recommends visiting the YMCA website to see if the program is offered in their area. If it does not appear to be offered, Debby suggests contacting your local Y to let them know there is interest in making it available. Once a local Y determines interest, they would apply to be eligible to offer the program.

I was pleased to hear about how much the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program has grown, making the diabetes prevention education available to so many more people. I can appreciate the philosophy of empowering people to make healthy choices. It sounds like those concepts took root in Jaronda – I applaud her efforts! My thanks to both Debby for sharing her insights and Jaronda for sharing her experiences.

All the best,

Laura K.


Disclosure: Debby LaCruz and Jaronda Little received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.


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