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New Yorkers at High Risk for Diabetes Find Help from YMCA Program

Donald Cortright
Middletown YMCA

At 65 years old, DonaId was diagnosed with prediabetes—a condition that put him at high risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. For help in getting his condition under control, Donald went to the Middletown YMCA, one of 10 Ys across the State that have implemented a diabetes prevention program (Y-DPP) with NYSHealth support. 

I joined the Y-DPP because my blood test numbers were high. I’m 65 years old. My blood sugar was at 103, my A1C was 6.5, and I weighed 214 pounds [all indicators for prediabetes]. The Y-DPP classes have made me aware that the types and quantity of foods that I eat were a major factor for my physical condition. I was not aware of the total amount of fats and calories that I ate each day. The Y-DPP classes have educated me in a way that I would not have predicted prior to these classes. The instruction and the changes I have made resulted in a weight loss of over 22 pounds, my A1C lowered to 5.6, and my blood sugar is down to 91. I have started walking, riding a bicycle, and doing other forms of exercise most days.

I would recommend this program to anyone who is in need of weight reduction, diet education, or physical activity training. The positive changes that I have seen are life changing. The most useful aspects of the Y-DPP for me are the food and activity trackers, and the calorie-counter book.


Grace Morina
Middletown YMCA

For more than 20 years, Grace had not been able to get below 150 pounds to be healthier, even with the help of dieticians and once under a doctor-managed weight-loss program. After signing up for the Y-DPP in her community, she finally met her goal and has maintained the weight loss she needed to help prevent diabetes. 

Not only have the Y-DPP classes given me valuable information, they’ve provided a direction and pace that I was able to include into my lifestyle. The group meetings offered different perspectives and ideas to help with the program. The meetings also provided insight, humor, great suggestions, and a camaraderie that helped immensely. My eating habits and how I respond to the various downfalls have also changed. Even though the program has finished, I know that I have the information and tracking methods to attain my final goal of weight loss and diabetes prevention.

Here are my final outcomes:

• I met the program’s goal of a 7% weight loss. For over 20 years, I have not been able to get below 150 pounds, even with the help of dieticians and once under a doctor-managed weight-loss program. I’ve finally made it below 150 pounds and have maintained it. For me, this is a miracle.

• My last blood test reflected that my glucose serum was 89—finally, below the 100 mark. My insulin count was also lower.

• I am exercising on a regular basis. Through the program I have found the incentive to fit it into my life on a regular basis and overcome issues that prevented me from exercising.

• I am more aware of food content and I am reading labels on a regular basis, which helps me to eliminate foods at the market before they get home. The program group gave great ideas about foods, cooking, overeating, etc.

I am still working on what I learned through the program, and the book is a valuable resource I will always have. Most of all, the program's group sessions provided me with encouragement, motivation, and accountability. Watching my food and keeping track of what I eat is now, and always will be, part of my lifestyle.


David Schriber
Broome County YMCA

David had never been one for diets—too many fad foods, extreme deprivations, and diets based on foods he would never eat. But a family history of risk factors for diabetes and heart disease convinced David to take advantage of the opportunity to enroll in the Y-DPP at his local YMCA.

I‘ve never been one for diets. Too many fad foods, extreme deprivations, scams, and diets based on foods I would never eat. I preferred to just watch what I ate. And that’s what I did for many years—a version of the see-food diet. You know…see food, eat food?

And over the years I’ve watched my weight gradually creep up, finally approaching an arbitrary number I had previously decided I never wanted to exceed. Having family history risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, I took advantage of an opportunity to enroll in a pilot weight-loss program for diabetes prevention through the YMCA. Contrary to my doubtful expectations, I found it was possible to achieve significant weight loss without starving, without drastically changing what I ate, and without becoming a slave to a gym.

The most important point about any weight management effort is accountability. I made a solemn promise to myself, and that prevented me from cheating late at night when no one’s looking and the cookie jar is singing seductively like the Sirens to Odysseus.

The two disciplines that made all the difference for me were 1.) logging everything I eat and drink and 2.) measuring everything I eat and drink. I learned the mantra “If I eat it, I must log it.” Then there is portion control. It’s a bit of a bother at first, but after awhile you get quite good at estimating sizes and weights, which is useful when dining out.

My wife and I were already fairly savvy shoppers and food consumers, so there were no drastic changes in diet. I was already eating a healthy and balanced diet, just way too many calories. I learned to right-size my portions and welcome the hunger in between as a sign my body was converting stored fat to energy.

Grocery shopping requires careful detective work focused more on the small print of nutrition labels than on the bold print of marketing labels. Restaurants are a huge challenge, with fat, salt, and sugar lurking around every corner of the menu, but with some advance homework, it is possible to eat out without blowing the calorie budget. Some restaurants will willingly make alterations to their preparations to make their food healthier.

If anyone told me I would lose 40 pounds in the coming year, I’d have said: “No way!” But because I had set small stepping-stone goals, it was doable. Lose five pounds? Sure, I can do that. When the first five pounds came off, I said, “That’s wasn’t so hard. Now it’s just another two pounds to get into the next decade lower of weight.” Then it was only a few more pounds until I had lost 10. I reached the program goal of 7% weight loss (for me, 17 pounds) in 12 weeks, but why stop there? Success is self-motivating. Each goal achieved gives a little thrill of victory that encourages me on to the next goal. It also prevents me from backsliding with occasional binges.

Success is also contagious. It helps to do this with your partner, friend, office mates, or a support group. It eases you through the trying times and gives you a lot to celebrate when the scale reports your downsizing. Our group found a healthy sense of humor really helps.

Then there are the external rewards—like the unsolicited and spontaneous compliment from a friend I hadn't seen in four months as I waited in line recently at Doug's Fish Fry: “Have you lost weight?” “You look terrific!” This of course precipitated an evangelical witness; weight management really does become a cause. I’ve been documenting my experience in a series of articles for the Broome County Office for Aging’s Senior News and the Lourdes Parish Nurse Ministry Program’s The Mustard Seed.

Discipline with one set of numbers (calories, etc.) has produced some very gratifying results with other numbers. I’m flirting with 40 pounds lost, 6 inches off the waist, significant reduction of blood glucose, and dramatic reduction in triglycerides (something I’ve long had trouble with). I’ve spent enough on alterations at Men’s Wearhouse to buy a new suit, but as the man says in their commercial, “You’re going to like the way you look—I guarantee it!”

I’ve not had to resign myself to a diet of tree bark and tofu. I still enjoy the foods I like, just not so much of them, and some of them less often. I still can't pass the bread aisle at Wegman's without sniffing their Pane Italian bread and taking home the yeasty aromatic loaf that cries "Buy me! Buy me!" but it's amazing how many other goodies—doughnuts, muffins, bagels, cupcakes, coffee cakes, bear claws, and kolacky—I can walk past with near impunity!

Best of all, the talking scale doesn’t ask if I want my weight in pounds, kilos, or tons!


Darlene Walsh
Broome County YMCA

To get her condition of prediabetes under control, Darlene knew she had to overcome destructive habits based on unhealthy eating and lack of exercise. The 16-week Y-DPP at the Broome County YMCA helped Darlene learn how to lead a healthier and happier life.

The Y-DPP has changed my life by greatly increasing my awareness of healthy eating and my own worst self-sabotaging, destructive habits based on unhealthy eating and lack of exercise. Many of us eat comfort foods for all the wrong reasons: loneliness, anger, fear, boredom, depression, or whatever problems we may be encountering. By following the steps of the Y-DPP program, we learned how to lead healthy, fulfilled, active, and happy lives. Lessons include:

• Learning about healthy foods vs. unhealthy foods and the substitutions we can make, giving us healthy choices we can incorporate into our everyday lives.

• Learning proper portion control with the combinations of protein, starch, fruits, and vegetables required by the human body for healthy living and maximum energy. Weighing and measuring portions or visualization by using common items. For example, a deck of cards equals a three-ounce serving of meat, a baseball equals a cup of popcorn, etc.

• Learning how to track our daily food intake for self-awareness and education of our own personal habits and tastes, and how we can modify this for portion control and healthier alternatives."

• Learning the importance of exercise and activity in our daily lives. Exercise and activity ward off diabetes, heart disease, and a multitude of other ailments. Exercise and activity can be used to alleviate loneliness, anger, fear, boredom, depression, and our own problems that trigger us to eat when we really are not hungry.

• Learning behavior modification techniques, how to deal with change, how to avoid problems and social cues to overeat, along with dealing with the psychological pitfalls that we all encounter along the way on our journey to a healthier, happier lifestyle. This comprehensive program has given us many other valuable tools, not to mention the much-needed group support from our fellow members as well as our well-educated, supportive leader. We don’t feel that we are alone fighting this life-devastating problem.

Personally, I reached my 7% weight loss goal prior to the end of the 16-week program through healthy eating and exercise. I have even lost a few pounds more as I keep following the educational and inspirational guidelines given to me by this wonderful program. Yes, I fall off the wagon and overeat from time to time and gain a few pounds back, but with this knowledge and education I’m able to get back on track, lose those extra pounds, and continue with more. Remember: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”—Lao-Tzu.


Anne Walter 
Greater Syracuse YMCA 

At 57 years old, Anne weighed more than she ever had before. Diagnosed with prediabetes, she was suffering from a host of serious health problems: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint pain from arthritis, and spinal stenosis that required back surgery to correct. At a routine checkup, Anne admitted her feelings of frustration and depression to her doctor, who in turn referred her to the practice’s dietician. Having recently learned about the Y-DPP, the dietician recommended Anne for the program.

Right from the start, Anne was inspired by the classes and impressed with the support she received. “Everything made sense to me,” says Anne. “I began to tune into what I was eating and I began to push myself to exercise.” Soon, she was comfortable using the Y’s gym equipment and had signed up for a swimming class, an activity she continues to enjoy. The program’s group support was the key to keeping Anne motivated. She and the other participants were able to discuss successes and failures at the weekly meetings, and weigh-ins were especially useful in helping her set goals and keep herself accountable to them.

While the program was challenging and required hard work on her part, once Anne established a routine of exercise and healthy eating, she finally began to feel better and to lose weight. To date, Anne has lost 85 pounds and continues her commitment to lose 10-15 more in order to achieve her ideal weight. More good news was in store for Anne at her last doctor’s visit—her blood work came back with vastly improved results.

And while Anne is thrilled by the physical improvements she has seen, she is even more pleased by the changes in her outlook. “I am a happier person and I am more comfortable interacting with people,” says Anne. “I just attended my 40th high school reunion and I wasn’t embarrassed about how heavy I looked. I have rarely been sick throughout the last year and my body feels healthy and strong.”

Since completing the Y-DPP, Anne continues to exercise daily and has renewed energy. On a recent trip to the Adirondacks, she began each morning with a long walk and enjoyed being outdoors in a way that she had never before experienced. Friends and coworkers have also said she’s inspired them to get healthier. Her childhood best friend, who had a heart attack at 40 years old and struggles with weight issues, recently told Anne she is considering joining the YMCA and would like to start swimming and exercising with her. “If she follows through, that would mean the world to me for the two of us to someday be old ladies together,” says Anne.


Watch the video below for more personal stories shared by graduates of the program.

About this Initiative

More than 4 million New Yorkers are estimated to have prediabetes, a condition that puts them at high risk for developing diabetes and its complications. Changes in diet and exercise, however, can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes, and in some cases, bring glucose levels back to normal.

NYSHealth is helping to improve the health of New Yorkers with prediabetes through a grant to the YMCA of New York State. With this support, YMCAs in 10 regions across the State have implemented a diabetes prevention program (Y-DPP) based on the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP), a pilot program tested by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. The program has been shown to reduce the risk of adults with prediabetes from developing diabetes by 58%, and by 71% for adults over the age of 60.

The 16-week, community-based program is conducted by trained YMCA staff who teach people at high risk for diabetes how to modify their eating and physical activity habits, and how to sustain those changes over time. During one-hour weekly group sessions, participants learn about healthy eating, getting started with physical activity, overcoming stress, staying motivated, and other behavioral changes.

At the end of the 16 weeks, participants are encouraged to continue with a weekly maintenance program. While the Y-DPP was initially launched with an NYSHealth grant, the YMCA has been working with insurers and employers to secure third-party reimbursement to sustain and expand the program. BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, Independent Health, and UnitedHealth Group have agreed to provide reimbursement for participants at some locations.

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