Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

YMCA offers residents pre-diabetes prevention program

12th February 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Ryan Whirty
Contributing Writer

Every year, Mardi Gras in New Orleans brings more than a month of festivities, and a big part of the celebration is food – potentially lots of it.

While Carnival delicacies might be tasty, they can also add up, and for people at risk for diabetes, too much of those eats can lead to trouble. Temptation can prevent those trying to slim down and get healthy from achieving their goals.

“This is Carnival time,” said Jennifer Ford, a life coach in the YMCA of Greater New Orleans’ Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). “There’s king cakes and parties. The most difficult part is to try to get your eating under control.”

Under the DPP, life coaches like Ford help lead a 12-month program that acts as both an educational experience and a support group for those willing to commit to a long-term effort to lose weight and reduce their risk for diabetes.

More than 35 percent of adults in Louisiana have pre-diabetes, a condition in which individuals show blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not elevated enough to be classified as diabetes. That figure is the sixth-highest in the nation.

What’s more, the vast majority of those with pre-diabetes aren’t even aware of their condition.

If left unchecked and allowed to develop into full diabetes, the condition can lead to a higher risk for kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and stroke.

To stem the rise in pre-diabetes, the YMCA of Greater New Orleans has partnered with the American Diabetes Association for Louisiana and Mississippi to increase awareness of the condition and launch programming aimed at decreasing the prevalence of potentially devastating pre-diabetes in the local community.

Jewel Constance, the assistant manager of community outreach in Louisiana and Mississippi for the ADA, said the comprehensive outreach program involves going to health clinics, hospitals, community organizations and local businesses to seek out and encourage people with pre-diabetes to learn about and enter the 12-month DPP program.

Constance herself ventures to entities like churches and clinics to spread the word.

“We’re really ramping up our efforts with outreach and marketing,” Halpern said. “We’re just hitting the ground to identify people who are at risk so that people know we’re here and that we have resources for them.”

For its part, the ADA also sponsors its Wellness Lives Here initiative, targeted at increasing awareness of the disease and engaging families, companies, community groups and other organizations to foster healthy habits. When undertaken successfully, these pro-health steps can result in benefits such as greater productivity, fewer illnesses and improved self-esteem. Crucially, those involved with the outreach effort know that pre-diabetes and its potential for health problems impacts African-American, Hispanic and other minority groups at higher rates. Intersecting with those demographics are factors such as lower income, lack of access to transportation or the Internet, and an absence of personal support networks.

As a result, said Erica Halpern, development director for the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, the ADA-YMCA partnership specifically targets such at-risk groups by heightening their efforts to reach those populations.

“Our mission is to serve everyone, but we know diabetes disproportionately affects those lover incomes,” Halpern said.

She added that program directors try to tailor the specifics of each individual support group and educational structure to the unique needs and challenges of each neighborhood or community organization.

“We work with community partners to make sure we create the most successful program possible,” Halpern said.

At the ground level of the DPP effort are life coaches like Ford, who help conduct the 12-month classes and work with every individual member to provide goals, structure and encouragement as participants work toward dropping weight, exercising more and developing healthier nutrition habits.

Ford knows how challenging becoming healthy can be – she herself recently lost a great deal of weight and, as a result, was encouraged by Y staff to take on the role of DPP coach. In addition, diabetes played a big role in her father’s death, giving her extra motivation to help change lives. Ford, a fitness and wellness coordinator at the YMCA’s Federal City branch, said she tries to bring her own personal experiences to coaching position. She works to make a personal connection with each participant.

“When you can actually talk with people, you have to have something they can relate to,” Ford said. “I tell them something about my own personal weight loss journey. As long as they can relate to it, it becomes easier for them.”

Also playing a crucial role in the success of each class is the mutual encouragement participants can give each other along the way during the 12-month program.

“It’s a support-based effort,” said Halpern. “That’s the reason we do it in a group setting, so everyone can support each other and share ideas. Each of these people are going through something similar.”

Ultimately, Constance said, the ADA-YMCA partnership is about responsiveness to the public. “If there’s a place where we may not be yet,” she said, “we’re happy to be contacted so we can send out an educator to help people.”

DPP classes are available in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany and Plaquemines parishes and other surrounding communities. To learn more about YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program or register to participate, visit ydpp. To learn if you’re at risk, take the risk assessment at https://www.ymcaneworleans. org/ydpp-participant.

This article originally published in the February 12, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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