AURELIUS — Nearly 10 percent of Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About one in four people don't know they have it. Locally, it's the fifth leading cause of premature death in Cayuga County, according to a 2014 community needs assessment from Auburn Community Hospital.

That's why the Cayuga Community Health Network offered a new program this past year, "Prevent T2, National Diabetes Prevention Program," a one-year lifestyle change program for those with prediabetes. Endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control, the program has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a news release from the network.

The network started with 12 participants from Cayuga County, but by the end of the full year, six remained. That didn't discourage Georgette Jones. 

Jones, a program coordinator for the network and a certified life coach, led her group through multiple meetings, monitoring food and exercise diaries, helping them set goals and watching them shed pounds. Altogether, the group lost 137 pounds. Though the program is not a weight loss program, that was a benefit many participants saw after making changes in their day-to-day habits.

"You guys are amazing," Jones said at a graduation ceremony Sept. 6 at the network's headquarters in Aurelius, marking the end of the program. "I hope you know that. The road ahead will not be easy, but not impossible because you've done it."

To qualify for the free program, participants had to have one of the following diabetes indicators: an A1C (blood sugar) value between 5.7 and 6.4, a history of gestational diabetes, being overweight and inactive, being 65 years old or older, a score of 9 or higher on a pre-test for diabetes, or past participation in the program. This time, participants were predominantly in their 50s and 60s, though Jones said anyone 18 or older can qualify.

Yvonne Ottley, of Auburn, said she lost 46 pounds during the year and lowered her risk of diabetes significantly. Her blood glucose levels were high when she began the program, showing prediabetic levels. By the end, she said, she'd dropped four points. A Cayuga County employee, Ottley joined the program with co-worker Karen Henry, also of Auburn. The two found support in each other, besides the group overall. They said they'd go on walks during lunch breaks at work. They still do.

"Initially, the one year was a pretty scary commitment," Henry said of the program. "I knew it was worth the effort. We've really benefited from it."

Most of the graduates said they were surprised at how big a difference many small changes made. John Donovan, of Auburn, said things like parking his car farther away from work and paying attention to portion sizes made a big difference for him. Kathy Morrell, of Auburn, said she started swimming again at the Auburn YMCA two nights a week.

Jessica Soule, executive director of the network, said due to the success of this year's program, it will be offered again, free of charge for participants. Many of this year's graduates have recommended the program to family and friends. Ottley said her daughter will be joining for the new session; an informational meeting will be held Sept. 12 at the Auburn YMCA.

Though this year's participants are still welcome to come to the new sessions, Soule told them at their graduation Sept. 6 that they must answer one question when they leave.

"Why continue this journey of health and well-being?" she said. "This is a question you need to answer yourself honestly to be able to continue your accomplishments."

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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