A pilot program is taking aim at type 2 diabetes, stopping the disease before it starts in at-risk patients living in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

The Twin Cities is one of three locations currently part of the pilot program, a collaboration between the YMCA of the USA and the AMA, through its Improving Health Outcomes initiative. The AMA is engaging physicians and residents at United Family Medicine’s Twin Cities branch to screen patients for prediabetes and refer those eligible to participate in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program offered by its Twin Cities branches. 

Participants in the prevention program at the Twin Cities YMCAs saw an average weight loss of 5 percent last year, significantly reducing their risk for type 2 diabetes. To date, more than 800 participants have completed the program in the Twin Cities metro area. 

Doug Voltin, a 71-year-old resident of Eagan, Minnesota, is one of those participants. Voltin previously led an active lifestyle but suffered a stroke, resulting in vertigo. Since then, he’s been unable to get much activity, and he’s had prediabetes for about seven years.

Voltin started attending the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities Diabetes Prevention Program, which includes 16 weeks of core education on nutrition and exercise from a trained lifestyle coach, plus peer and goal-setting support. Following the initial sessions, participants meet monthly for up to a year to monitor their progress.

“We started doing a food diary, which I had never done before, and that really helped,” Voltin said. “My coach emphasized that this was an attempt to make true life changes and started off by making me aware of what I was eating.”

Voltin said his coach worked with him to identify exercises he could complete, even with his vertigo.

“I used to do yoga in the morning, and my coach said, ‘Have you ever thought about chair yoga?’” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah right, that sounds so wimpy,’ but I got an app for my iPad … and it slowly got me back into physical activity.”

Voltin went from 203 pounds at his first weigh-in to 175 pounds at the end of the program—but more impressive was the reduction in his hemoglobin A1c. Voltin’s physician has been testing him every six months for seven years. His A1c level was about 7 percent before he started the YMCA program. When Voltin was re-tested after the program ended, his A1c level came back at a healthy 5.15 percent.

Seeing the positive results, his physician now is recommending the program to other patients, Voltin said.

Medicare beneficiaries can participate in the Twin Cities program for free—a bonus for Voltin. “The price was right,” he said. 

Medicare beneficiaries in the other two pilot locations, Indianapolis and the state of Delaware, can also attend the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program at no cost. Physician practices in those locations also are participating in the AMA’s pilot program, with the goals of increasing education and awareness of prediabetes by promoting screenings of those at risk and increasing physician referrals of people with prediabetes to local YMCA Diabetes Prevention Programs. The AMA plans to apply the learnings from these pilots to the creation of tools for physician practices across the country.

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