A recent study shows that by the year twenty-25, as many as 15 percent of New Yorkers could be dealing with type 2 diabetes. The Institute for Alternative Future’s study says it could mean an almost 50 percent increase in a little less than two decades.
As part of a nationwide effort, the YMCA is expanding its 16-session Diabetes Prevention Program to several locations in New York City. The goal is to help people at risk of developing the disease prevent it through better nutrition and exercise.
Diabetes is a chronic illness. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone meant to control blood sugar. There are two types: type 1 is usually diagnosed in childhood. Type II is far more common, and often begins in adulthood. It’s usually caused by lifestyle with diet, family history and age being the biggest risk factors.
“Diabetes is an insidious disease especially type II diabetes, so you can have it without having any symptoms,” said Ronald Tamler, a diabetes specialist at the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center.
Diabetes is an irreversible diagnosis, but it’s not unavoidable. Tamler says people who have pre-diabetes, a condition that precedes type-2 diabetes, have to take significant steps to keep from developing it.
“In many cases, it’s preventable,” he said. “Not only is it preventable but it’s preventable without taking any medication; changing your life has a bigger impact than any medication – isn’t that important, isn’t that fascinating?”
The answer to avoiding diabetes is to eat less and exercise more. But that’s easier said than done and changing one’s habits takes a lot of commitment… and a certain push.
On a Wednesday night, Kerry Watterson is getting on a treadmill at the Vanderbilt Y, on East 47th street. He pushes the buttons and starts a slow jog.
“I’ve been coming 2 to 3 times a week, typically to do cardio, circa-training, the pool… some classes,” he said.
Watterson’s decision to get healthy was mainly motivated by fear. He watched his mother struggle with diabetes for 20-years, and that prompted him to get tested.
“About 2 and a half years ago, she ended up in a wheelchair,” Watterson said. “So my brothers and I were talking about how we have to change our futures but we all sat around and did nothing, apart from my older brother who lost 100 pounds on his own… so I decided I needed to do something about this.”
Watterson’s motivation came just in time. He was officially diagnosed pre-diabetic… so he turned to the YMCA.
Pilot programs for the Diabetes Prevention Program have already been operating at two of the city’s YMCAs for the past six months, including the Vanderbilt Y, where Watterson goes. He started the 16-week group-based program in August of last year; he’s since lost 22 pounds.
“It was hard,” Watterson said. “I’m 35, I’ve been overweight for 25 of these 35 years but I recognized I needed to make a change; otherwise I would end up like my mom in that wheelchair, and it wasn’t good enough for me.”
Watterson says he has some more weight to lose, but he’s keeping with the program. Jack Lund is the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York. He says what differentiates the Y’s program from other diabetes program is that it’s fairly accessible to all, including communities of color and low-income communities where the prevalence of type II diabetes is almost double the national average.
“It amazes me that so many New Yorkers are pre-diabetic and yet almost 93 percent don’t even know it,” Lund said. “So there’s an enormous amount of public awareness that has to occur and it has to occur through channels, in neighborhoods, through trusted institutions like the Y and others.”
Lund says the Y is uniquely positioned to tackle the problem…
“One of the nice things about the New York City Y is we’re in every neighborhood and we’re in all 5 boroughs and we have about 150 satellite sites around the city,” Lund said. “So we really do have a fairly strong presence in every community.”
The YMCA of Greater New York has already started to implement the program in all of its centers across the city. To qualify, individuals must be overweight and have already been diagnosed with pre-diabetes by a physician.