Diabetes Dialogues

Sharing Our Story: Lifestyle Change Program Coaches on Diabetes Prevention Program Success

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As part of our commitment to reduce the incidence of diabetes, we are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) to implement a key feature of the program—a research-based, structured lifestyle change program that is proven to help prevent and delay the development of type 2 diabetes.

Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have prediabetes—where blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diabetes. Prediabetes is very common. Approximately 88 million people aged 18 years or older have prediabetes, which is one in three Americans.

If you have prediabetes, know you have the power to change things. Research shows that CDC-recognized lifestyle change programs can help you cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than half, proving that preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes is possible through small changes over time.

To learn more about your risk for diabetes or prediabetes, take our free, online 60-Second Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test. If you are high risk, get tested to find out if you have diabetes or prediabetes and find a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program near you

When you join a CDC-approved lifestyle change program, you will be working in a group guided by a trained lifestyle coach. We interviewed three coaches about their lifestyle change programs:

  • — Jillian Miner, Lifestyle Coach at Eastern Connecticut Health Network (ECHN)
  • — Kristen Loparco, Community Health Worker and Lifestyle Coach at ECHN
  • — Donna Doel, Assistant Coordinator and Lifestyle Coach at 24 for Life Diabetes Prevention Program at MidlandCare Connection

In our conversation below, these trained lifestyle coaches share what to expect from the lifestyle change program, the benefits for participants, as well as the impressive changes they see from those taking part.

Why do you think this CDC-approved lifestyle change program is an important resource for people at risk for type 2 diabetes?

Donna: Many people that call us to learn more about 24 for Life tell us that they need additional information and resources beyond what their medical providers give them so they can become more intentional about changing their lifestyles to improve their health to prevent type 2 diabetes. This program helps them on a weekly basis with session topics that they can apply during the week along with the accountability of their classmates. Staying connected to others in their group through group texting can help them make strides to better health throughout the course of the program.

Jillian and Kristen: In many cases, when someone is at risk for type 2 diabetes, they will be encouraged by their doctor to lose weight through diet and exercise. Nearly everyone knows that physical activity is good for our bodies and that it’s healthy to eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s not the basic knowledge of what to do that’s challenging—it’s how do we do it (and do it consistently enough) to result in lasting change. The Prevent T2 curriculum guides people through the process of discovering their own personal health challenges and supports participants to create an individualized plan to address and overcome them. 

What components of your lifestyle change program are most beneficial to participants?

Donna: Specific topics work together and, over the course of the program, make an enormous difference in the health and lifestyles of participants. These, combined with the accountability that comes through being connected with others on the same journey, are proven to create the results people need to reduce their risks of developing type 2 diabetes.

Jillian and Kristen: Some of our favorite sessions are actually the ones that don’t focus on diet and exercise. What we love about this program is that it takes a deeper dive into numerous factors that impact our health and wellness, such as the way we think, manage stress, get sufficient sleep, and create healthy habits. Some people have spent years focusing on what they eat and trying to get motivated to exercise, but when we talk about these other topics, often something clicks. It is important and helps them understand the bigger picture: that living a healthy lifestyle is about more than just eating and exercising. The fact that this program makes participants accountable to someone other than themselves is also a really important factor in their success, as well as the unique support system not only from us as lifestyle coaches, but the other participants who are in the same boat they are.

What are some of the positive changes, health and otherwise, you’ve seen in participants in your lifestyle change program?

Donna: Many of the participants have reduced their A1C which is an average of blood glucose over a three-month period and other lab results. They feel better about themselves and have surprised themselves at what types of physical activities they can actually do once they have reduced their weight and have increased their endurance.

Jillian and Kristen: One of the most exciting changes I have noticed in numerous participants is that they develop a new perspective around food and exercise. Gradually throughout the program, they let go of old, self-defeating ways of thinking, such as “I’m bad if I eat ice cream,” or “I can never stick with an exercise program.” They shift from looking for a quick fix and dramatic results to appreciating non-scale successes and forming a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Additionally, by trying new things throughout the year, many participants build confidence and develop a new relationship with failure. It is not something to be feared or a reason to give up—it is information that guides them in choosing their next steps. 

How has the program helped or benefitted your clinic?   

Donna: One of our programs at Midland Care Connection is the PACE program. This is an all-inclusive umbrella of services of care for those 55 and older who are nursing home eligible to stay in their homes. 24 for Life has benefitted the PACE participants at Midland by helping them learn how to eat healthier and to find ways to get physically active by doing everyday activities such as marching in place while sitting down and using a resistance band while watching TV. Employees of Midland Care Connection that are participants of the program have benefitted by learning how to incorporate healthier living in the workplace. Since 24 for Life has been a part of employees’ lives, there are more people turning to the fun healthy foods at work event food tables rather than unhealthier foods.

Jillian and Kristen: The program helps with not only the Diabetes Wellness Center at our hospital but the overall hospital itself. When people are signed up for the program, if they need other resources specific to diabetes or overall health and wellness, they have a direct link to the Diabetes Wellness Center or other health and wellness programs in the hospital. The doctors refer the patients to us, and there is a cross-referral when we refer them to other programs.

The program also encourages individuals to view our hospital as a resource for wellness and a preventive resource rather than a resource to only access when they are ill. 

How easy is it to refer patients to the program?

Donna: Our PACE participants are given a diabetes risk test when they are oriented into the PACE program. The PACE dietitian speaks with them about the 24 for Life Program and refers those who qualify to the 24 for Life team. We are working with health systems in the area to refer patients to us. Once the necessary paperwork is completed, the goal is for the health system to fax referrals from patients’ consent forms to 24 for Life for follow-up. We also are in the community with awareness campaigns through in-person and virtual events. We are always looking for community partners to help us bring awareness to our 24 for Life Diabetes Prevention Program and for people in the community that are interested in joining. Just call us at (866) 394-3600 or visit our webpage. The sign-up is easy!

Jillian and Kristen: As more and more individuals complete the program, awareness of its success is increasing in the local medical field. Our staff is constantly reaching out to local physicians to share information about our services, and doctors are becoming quick to refer their patients with prediabetes. For offices affiliated with ECHN, it is a simple process to send a referral to our program through an electronic system. It has become even easier to refer individuals to our program that are not referred by their physician by using our website (bottom of the page).

What are a few words that best describe the lifestyle change program?

Donna: Making healthier lifestyle choices for life!

Jillian and Kristen: Self-exploration, experiment, accountability, and support.