Sidney Glass, 66, a retired public defender, spent years on a “pill regime” for various ailments having to do with his weight and diet and was recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic by his health provider.

Told by his doctor that he was “an obese African-American male with a stressful job as a public defender and there will never be a time when you are off medicines,” Glass received a loud wake-up call.

Glass is no stranger to Type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes, the most common form of diabetes and a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, eyesight and kidney failure and poor circulation in limbs that may result in amputations.

Adult-onset diabetes is caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors, and rates of Type 2 diabetes have rapidly increased in the past few decades alongside rates of obesity in Americans. The disease is most easily prevented by adopting habits that increase overall health, like eating healthfully, reducing body weight and exercising regularly. Pre-diabetics, or those living with elevated levels of blood glucose, stand a good chance of developing the disease within 10 years unless they make preventative lifestyle changes.

With numerous instances of diabetes in his near and extended family, it seemed inevitable that Glass would one day develop the disease.

“I had an aunt who died of diabetes and I had an uncle who had a leg amputated,” said Glass. “My family has around-the-clock care for my mother-in-law to make sure she takes all of her medicine and gets her insulin shot, and my wife is diabetic. It’s an epidemic,” he said.

For Bonnie Fergusson, 70 and semi-retired, diabetes posed a similar threat, despite a lifetime of education and career in the medical field as a phlebotomist and HIV/AIDS counselor. Fergusson has several close family members living with the disease along with being “older and overweight,” she said.

Working in healthcare all her life gave Fergusson a clear picture of what happens to someone when they develop diabetes, with elevated risk of heart attack, stroke, and infections leading to amputations.

“It’s a very debilitating disease,” Fergusson said. “It’s a long, slow death where they chop pieces off of you and you become increasingly debilitated until you die.”

With the help of a new prevention-based support group at the YMCA, Glass and Fergusson are starting to make some of the necessary lifestyle changes to lower their risks of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The YMCA’s national Diabetes Prevention Program – recently launched at the Downtown Oakland Y – was developed in partnership with the Center for Disease Control and is supported by the Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance.

Lauren Hendler, Associate Health and Wellness Director at YMCA of the East Bay, is currently leading the program’s first peer support group of which Glass and Fergusson are a part.

“Diabetes is rising across the country and it’s rising pretty steadily in our area,” Hendler said. “Diabetes and prediabetes can affect people across all diversity lines and a lot of people that I’ve talked to in our community just accept that they are going to get this disease and even die from this disease.”

The support group is made up of 8 – 15 East Bay residents who meet, together with a lifestyle coach, regularly over the course of a year. The participants are working to reduce their body weight by 7% and increase their exercise to 150 minutes a week.

“That small change has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of diabetes,” Hendler said. “Our goal is to prevent people from ever developing the disease.”

Hendler explained that the group works together to create goals and make changes that are sustainable for the rest of the participants’ lives, using the support of the peer group to find solutions and overcome challenges as they arise. So far, the initial group has seen success.

“People are losing weight for sure, and they are finding solutions that work for them,” Hendler said. “It’s challenging – people are doing things they’ve never done before – but they’re really responding to the support of the group.”

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