YMCA Leads Effort to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

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More than one third of American adults are pre-​diabetic. This means a person’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, putting them at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Patrice McNeely of Hazelwood falls into this group but is determined not to follow in her family’s footsteps.

I just turned 45 and I’m the only one in my family over 40 who does not have diabetes. This is preventable so I thought, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ ”

Last March, McNeely joined the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program available through the Y of Greater Pittsburgh. It’s part of a nationwide effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to help those at risk for developing type 2 diabetes lose up to 7 percent of their body weight and exercise at least 150 minutes a week — which research shows can significantly delay or prevent the onset of diabetes.

McNeely quickly surpassed these goals. She lost 40 pounds in six months and exercises twice a day, six times a week. She also completely overhauled her diet. “Fruits and veggies are my go-​to,” she says. “I fell in love with spinach and kale, apples and oranges. I’m drinking water. I threw away all my Pepsi. I don’t purchase cookies and chips anymore.”

She is among 200 people who have participated in the Y program since it started more than three years ago. “We hope to serve roughly 800 individuals on an annual basis, which would be feasible,” says Gretchen North, associate vice president of Healthy Living for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. “Right now, that’s a very lofty goal.”

North has been spreading the word to area employers, especially those who pay for their employees’ healthcare, that offering the program is a smart investment. “Those with pre-​diabetes don’t necessarily convert to developing the disease, and preventing diabetes is the more affordable approach.”

The YMCA’s year-​long prevention program includes a three-​month Y membership and costs $429 per participant. (Scholarships are available for those paying out of pocket.) McNeely’s employer, the City of Pittsburgh, is the first in the area to offer it as part of its employee wellness benefits. Another “small win,” North says, is Allegheny Health Network integrating the Y program into its electronic medical records system so a provider there treating a pre-​diabetic patient will get a nofification about the program.It may seem strange to have a clinical program offered through the YMCA, North says, but it fits perfectly with the Y’s Healthy Living brand. Plus, “delivering the program in a traditional healthcare context would be more expensive. We’re also not tied to our walls. We can deliver the program at a worksite.”

To learn more, go to ymcapgh​.org or call Gretchen North at 4122273820.


Kelly Casey

Kelly loves telling people’s stories. She began her journalism career at the Pitt News, University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper. For several years, she was a general assignment and Sunday feature writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-​Review. After moving to Virginia, she joined the University of Virginia Medical Center marketing department. For the past several years, she has focused on health writing, including serving as regional editor for the nationally syndicated quarterly magazine, Vim & Vigor. She was lulled back to Western Pennsylvania in 2006 but continues to work for UVA from afar and is excited to be once again reporting on the Pittsburgh region. Kelly lives in Oakmont with her husband and two sons.

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