In a six month period, the 94 participants in Providence Medical Group’s Diabetes Prevention Program lost a total of 1,041 pounds, an average of more than 10 pounds per person. The average physical activity for group members was 289 minutes per week, well above the minimum goal of 150 minutes set by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Most importantly, their A1C test scores dropped to within normal range. The tests measure the average blood sugar over the past two to three months as a method of screening for Type I and II diabetes.

Providence Diabetes Prevention Class
Program Manager Rachel Akins is also one of the instructors for the Diabetes Prevention course. Photo courtesy: Providence Health Group

“Our class leader taught us to make realistic goals to prevent or delay Type II diabetes,” says one participant. “I’ve learned to read labels and choose a healthier diet, plus I’ve strengthened my muscles and learned about new food items. Because of this class, my last A1C test is no longer in the prediabetes range.”

Providence offers the year-long class at four of its South Sound locations in Hawks Prairie, Lacey, West Olympia and Centralia. While most participants are referred by their primary care provider, anyone can call to register for a free information session and take the prescreening test. “Anybody who is at risk for Type II diabetes can enroll,” says Rachel Akins, program coordinator. “They have to be overweight and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of greater or equal to 25. They can either score a positive on the diabetes risk test or have a qualifying lab.”

Currently, Providence is looking to grow the program based on interest and demand. The more people who attend information sessions and fill out pre-screening questionnaires, the greater the likelihood of new classes being formed.

Groups contain between 10 and 15 participants and meet every week for the first six months, then twice a month for the last six. The program follows the CDC’s Prevent T2 curriculum, which focuses on topics such as healthy eating, meal planning, how to manage emotional eating and dining out, and how to reduce stress. “There are 26 different topics,” says Akins. “Each week we spend at least 20 minutes or so on the educational component.”

The rest of the hour-long session is centered around a key factor in the program’s success: group support. Participants share their progress relative to their lifestyle change goals such as how many minutes of physical activity they logged that week or any eating challenges that arose. In the final 20 minutes, they set goals for the following week (or two, once the six-month mark has passed) and share them with each other.

Providence Diabetes Prevention Session
Group support is a key to making the program successful, according to Akins. Photo courtesy: Providence Health Group

“What we’ve learned is that the more people have opportunities to be accountable, the more successful they are,” says Akins. “People who attend at least 70 percent of the sessions have the highest success rates.”

Another factor: the majority of classes are taught either by registered dieticians (or by lifestyle coaches who have access to registered dieticians) who can address challenging dietary restrictions or meal-planning questions.

The results are, quite literally, life-changing.

“We see people making lifestyle changes,” says Akins. “Because we work with them for a year, those shifts become embedded in their lifestyle how they live instead of something they do for a couple of months.” Although every participant is encouraged to lose between five and seven percent of their starting weight, the real focus is on health, she emphasizes. “We’ve had many participants who don’t lose very much weight but whose A1C scores drop back down to the normal range because they’re doing physical activity and eating much healthier. They feel stronger and we’re seeing that reversion and prevention of chronic disease. That’s what is really rewarding.”

Anyone interested in the program should check with their insurance provider to make sure it’s covered. Providence Health Plan, Regence Uniform, United Health Care and Medicare all fund the program, among others.

Providence Diabetes Prevention Class
Program Manager Rachel Akins is also one of the instructors for the Diabetes Prevention course. Photo courtesy: Providence Health Group

As of 2019, the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program began covering an ongoing maintenance component that allows for a second year of programming and tracking participants. In the meantime, several groups have created Facebook groups and continued to meet monthly once the formal part of the program was over. Akins attributes it to the power of group support.

“Our participants tend to have other physical limitations, especially arthritis,” she notes. “I’m amazed at the ability of people working together. They really challenge themselves. People who haven’t been able to do a lot of physical activity get creative about getting in the pool or getting exercise some other way. It takes having the accountability to the group to sustain that.”

Classes begin every quarter at the different locations and there’s enough variety to accommodate most needs. “We’re always enrolling for new classes,” says Akins. “Anyone can take our screening test and check the commercial insurance billing code to find out if they qualify and are covered.”

To learn more, take the prescreening test or call 1-855-776-4362 to register for the information sessions where questions can be answered.

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