Dr. Eva DiCocco is a primary care physician at the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group and the physician lead for the Diabetes Prevention Program at Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States. She sees patients in-person at the Kaiser Permanente Woodlawn Medical Center and also offers virtual care through video and phone appointments
Did you know nearly 40 percent of Americans have prediabetes and more than 80 percent of them don’t even know they have it? Prediabetes can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes, a lifelong disease affecting millions of Americans. Thankfully, there are proven methods to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes.
One way to prevent Type 2 diabetes is by participating in a diabetes prevention program, which is a year-long educational program designed for people who have prediabetes or those who are at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown participating in a diabetes prevention program can cut the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in half. As of 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes over 2,000 organizations across all 50 states that offer such programs.
I am proud to lead the diabetes prevention program at Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States. Our program received full recognition from the CDC – the highest achievement possible reserved for medical groups effectively delivering a high-quality, evidence-based program.
I’ve seen the tremendous transformation the program can have on a person’s life. People have more energy to play with their kids or grandkids. Their blood pressure and cholesterol levels come down. They can go back to doing what they love.
What to Expect
Participating in a diabetes prevention program is a big commitment — and it has even bigger rewards.
Participants attend the program for one year. Each program will have a different cadence to how often they meet. At Kaiser Permanente, we meet weekly for the first four months, every other week for the next four months, and once a month for the final four months. At the beginning of the program, a certified lifestyle coach teaches participants how to eat healthy, add physical activity, cope with stress, and much more.
Later in the program, participants put what they’ve learned into action. This includes logging foods in a journal each day, exercising for at least 150 minutes a week (about 30 minutes a day), preparing healthy recipes, and finding fun local events to stay active.
The best part of a diabetes prevention program is the support participants get from each other. An average class has a dozen or more participants. That’s a dozen people to look to for motivation and to learn from! Past participants often tell me their favorite part of the program was forming new friendships and swapping ideas about healthy lifestyle changes. I think the “secret sauce” for creating new healthy habits is having a community of support. It is extremely motivating to be surrounded by like-minded people with similar goals. In fact, many of the relationships formed within the program continue long after the program has concluded.
Strategies Backed by Science
Diabetes prevention programs use scientifically backed strategies to help participants lose weight, become more physically active, improve A1C levels, and more. Research shows participants who lost 5 percent to 7 percent of their body weight and added the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week cut their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by up to 58 percent (71 percent for people over 60 years old). That means a person weighing around 200 pounds has the potential to lose 10 to 14 pounds by participating in the program.
A 10-year follow-up study showed participants were still one-third less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes a decade later than individuals who took a placebo pill and did not participate in the program. Those who did develop Type 2 diabetes delayed the onset of the disease by about four years.
Patients are eligible if they have prediabetes, meaning their blood sugar is higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. The CDC offers an online test to assess risk of prediabetes. A doctor will often conduct a series of blood tests to determine a prediabetes diagnosis.
To be eligible for a diabetes prevention program, participants must also:
- Be 18 years or older
- Have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher (23 or higher if Asian American)
- Not be previously diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes
- Not be pregnant
How to Enroll
Anyone diagnosed with prediabetes who meets the other eligibility criteria should talk to a doctor about participating in a diabetes prevention program.
Programs are offered in person, virtually, distance-learning style, or a combination of the three. They can be found on the CDC’s website.
At Kaiser Permanente, our diabetes prevention program is offered at no additional cost to our members. A program coordinator can help determine the price of participating.
Taking the First Step
Anyone at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes should take the first step toward healthy lifestyle changes. And a diabetes prevention program is a great place to start. Participants learn, laugh, share stories, try new things, and build healthy habits (and healthy friendships!) that will last a lifetime.
Feature image by zinkevych/stock.adobe.com
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