Monday, April 25, 2011

Our YMCA Battles Diabetes in NYC

Our city's YMCA is taking on diabetes before it takes hold, with a comprehensive approach designed to bring those at the highest risk back from the brink while conquering the leading causes of diabetes, such as obesity, poor nutrition, and a lack of physical activity.

Obesity on the Rise

As we have stated previously, while obesity is rising nationally, New York City's increase in obesity (17%) was nearly three times the national average (6%) from 2002 to 2004. Indeed, the majority of New York City residents are overweight or obese, and Upper Manhattan has some of the highest rates of obesity in our city.

Poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity characterize far too many families in Upper Manhattan, and those realities have translated directly into poor health and obesity. These health realities result in higher health costs (more than $6 billion of additional costs across New York City), lower quality of life, and shorter lives for the people of our communities.

Across our city, 23% of residents are obese, and many of those residents underestimate how overweight they are. With nearly one quarter of our city's residents enduring the health risks of obesity, we see that obese residents in New York City are three times as likely to suffer from diabetes as those at a normal weight. For overweight New Yorkers, they are nearly twice as likely to suffer from diabetes.

YMCA to the Rescue

Our city's YMCA has more than 20 locations and operates in all five boroughs. The YMCA of Greater New York serves more than 400,000 of our neighbors and provides tens of millions of dollars of free and subsidized programs to residents in our city each year. The legendary Harlem YMCA is one of those many locations and was home to many of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, had Jackie Robinson as its Chair, and continues to be the headquarters for healthy living and a safe place for children to learn and enjoy life in Upper Manhattan. Recent Harlem YMCA Chairs include Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Larry Dais, and Gerri Warren-Merrick, among others.

The YMCA of Greater New York is making the battle against diabetes one of its highest priorities and focusing its assistance on residents in our communities who suffer from prediabetes. As stated by Jack Lund, the YMCA's President and CEO, "Diabetes is an irreversible diagnosis, but it is not impossible to stop it before it develops." The attack on diabetes by the YMCA takes the form of a 16-session program for groups of eight to fifteen individuals with prediabetes. The program is led by trained YMCA lifestyle coaches who guide the participants toward an improved understanding of healthy eating, strategies for increasing physical activity, and other behavior modifications. The effort continues after the 16 sessions with monthly follow-up sessions to maintain and enhance the impact of the 16 session program.

The program is called the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program and would cost each participant $325 if not for the sponsorship and support coming from the YMCA's public-private partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and the UnitedHealth Group. As a result of that sponsorship, the cost per participant is only $40 for YMCA members and only $80 for non-members (membership at YMCAs is inexpensive with a family of two parents and their children paying only $99 per month for membership at the Harlem YMCA; one parent and his or her children pay only $76 per month for membership).

Individuals interested in participating in the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program can register at

Potential Impact

A recent study showed that with a modest reduction of 5% to 7% of body weight, a person at risk for diabetes can reduce her/his chances of acquiring the disease by nearly 60%. With 1.4 million people in New York City suffering from prediabetes (nearly a quarter of the population of New York City) and more than 90% of those people unaware that they are at serious risk of becoming diabetic, the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program is exactly "what the doctor ordered" to raise awareness, reduce risks, and improve lives.

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