According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three Americans is at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Twenty-six million adults and children in the United States have diabetes, with nearly 7 million who are undiagnosed. There are 79 million Americans with prediabetes, and only 7.3 percent of those have been told about it by their doctor.

If individuals can be diagnosed early enough with prediabetes, a classification of blood glucose level that is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, they can implement lifestyle changes that can delay or prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Without intervention, prediabetes is likely to turn into diabetes within the next 10 years. 

Many risk factors contribute to the eventual diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. These include being overweight, with a body mass index above 25; living a sedentary lifestyle; and aging, especially being 65 years or older. Other factors include having a family history of Type 2 diabetes and being of a certain ethnicity: You have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if you are black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian-American or a Pacific Islander. 

A diagnosis of diabetes is often not taken as seriously as it should. In the South, it is sometimes referred to as having “a touch of the sugars.” That excess sugar can do some major damage to your body. Left untreated, diabetes can cause heart disease — including creating a higher risk of stroke, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

It can also cause nerve damage, which may feel like tingling, numbness, weakness or pain in the extremities, and can lead to foot amputations. Diabetes can lead to blindness, caused by cataracts, glaucoma or retinopathy; seizures and coma; gum disease; kidney disease; and gastroparesis, or taking too long to empty the stomach’s contents. 

Type 2 diabetes often starts as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that assists with metabolism. With the help of insulin, once food is broken down to glucose, a form of sugar, cells can absorb it and use it for energy.

Insulin resistance occurs when the body produces insulin but does not use it efficiently. Therefore, glucose builds up in the blood, and the body continues to require more and more insulin to do the same job a smaller amount could handle previously. The pancreas has a hard time keeping up. 

Thankfully, there is good news. Diabetes can be prevented by making some simple lifestyle changes. These include choosing healthier food options and adding 150 minutes of physical activity at a moderate intensity per week, such as a brisk walk might provide. 

The American Diabetes Association has stated that losing just 7 percent of your body weight can lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes. For a 200-pound person, this would mean losing 14 pounds. 

The National Institutes of Health conducted a clinical trial that studied the difference between individuals undergoing an intensive lifestyle-intervention program focused on weight loss, those taking Metformin (a medication that helps control blood sugar levels) and those taking a placebo pill. The groups taking either Metformin or the placebo also received information on nutrition and physical activity. 

The study showed a reduction in the onset of Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent in the group undergoing the intensive lifestyle intervention, with a 71 percent reduction for those 60 or older. The group taking Metformin reduced their risk by 31 percent, and the treatment was most effective for individuals between 25 to 44 years of age. 

Based on the results of the study, the YMCA developed a Diabetes-Prevention Program that could be translated to a group setting in the real world. The yearlong program is delivered by a trained lifestyle coach, with 16 weekly educational sessions followed by monthly sessions for the remainder of the year. The two main goals of the program are a body-weight loss of 7 percent and increasing physical-activity minutes to 150 per week. The group provides a supportive environment where individuals learn from and motivate each other. Some of the topics that are covered during the weekly sessions include healthy eating, being active, tipping the calorie balance, problem solving and managing stress. Many insurance companies are now offering this as a covered health benefit.

The Walla Walla YMCA began this program here in January. Each group consists of eight to 15 participants. Our hope is to have at least one program running in English and Spanish every 16 weeks. The Walla Walla YMCA also offers an exercise class for individuals with Type 2 diabetes or at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. 

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