Whether their health care providers urged them to come, or they made the decision to become healthier, most people in the National Diabetes Prevention Program stay for the group support.

The Cayuga Community Health Network, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the sole provider of the evidence-based lifestyle change program in Cayuga County. This 26-session workshop guides participants through making changes to become more physically active, change their eating habits, destress and generally improve the quality of their lives.

The program is for people who are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. This is measured in two ways: an A1C blood glucose test shows the level between 5.7 and 6.4 (6.5 and higher is considered diabetic range), or someone has several risk factors that point to a greater chance of getting the disease, such as family history, low physical activity and high weight-to-height ratio.

Georgette Jones, a certified lifestyle coach with the network, leads the program. It begins with 16 once-a-week sessions, followed by bi-weekly sessions, and then monthly check-ins. Each session builds on concepts of making feasible, reasonable changes, such as increasing time spent being physically active and having healthy eating habits, to meet the ultimate goal of 5-7 percent weight loss a reduction in blood glucose A1C levels.

Jones recently graduated her second class, which, like her first group, met and exceeded its goals, losing a group total of 134 pounds, or 7 percent of the participants’ initial body weight. She attributes that success to the group aspect of the program, which allowed people to share their challenges, tips for addressing any issues and successes they’ve had.

Despite having a certified lifestyle coach guiding participants through the topics via a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-certified curriculum, people love the discussion portion where they can share challenges, successes, tips and resources they’ve found.

“Being part of a group is a big motivational factor for people, as opposed to doing it on your own,” Jones said. “People are grateful for the suggestions and the ability to discuss what they are going through so they know they aren’t the only ones experiencing these challenges.”

One of the most rewarding things about being able to assist the same group for a full year is seeing the differences and improvements people experience throughout this program. We hear about people having to buy new clothes as they lose weight and find new hobbies, about spouses who report losing weight because of the changes a participant brings home and, most impressively, about the people who can now do things they didn’t dream of a year ago, such as traveling, getting off medication and feeling more confident.

Those who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, or are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, can join our upcoming program, which starts Tuesday, Sept. 18. Not sure if you are at risk? Call Georgette Jones at (315) 252-4212 for more information, or learn more at cayugahealthnetwork.org.


Debbie Smith, of Auburn, had struggled with her weight for most of her life, and watched her father take an insulin shot every time he ate due to his Type 2 diabetes. Smith hates shots, and didn’t think she could face the same.

She wanted to prevent that fate of injections, and being tied to a stringent medicine routine. This hope led her to the National Diabetes Prevention Program in September 2017. She just graduated from the program, with the largest amount of weight loss of the group.

While the majority of participants report weight loss, the goal of the program is actually lifestyle change. With this in mind, scale readings are kept private, with a focus on the physical activity and eating in moderation. Due to this structure, Smith didn’t realize she had the largest weight loss in the group. More than shedding the pounds, she learned how to change her mindset and follow her passion, such as dancing.

“I learned I can,” she said. “I want to help other people, so I put myself on the back burner. I realized that I can help myself. No one is going to do it for me.”

Smith loved the group structure of the program, saying that knowing that the group would be there helped keep her motivated. The coaching by Jones, too, was key to helping her along the way.

“Georgette was very encouraging, she kept me going,” Smith said. “Having someone to report to, not just her, but knowing that the group would be there, I needed that.”

Georgette builds a supportive atmosphere where people can share their challenges and their struggles, Smith added.

“When she told me, I started crying,” Smith said of getting crowned as the "biggest loser."

Looking ahead, she knows this is a lifelong process.

Her advice to the new class: “Don’t give up. You’re worth it.”

Susan Giltner, of Auburn, also saw diabetes impact her family, with her mother and grandmother affected. Looking at her three sisters, she knew that, statistically, one of them would likely develop Type 2 diabetes.

“My sugar count was going up, and I was looking for some way to not take medication,” she said. She left her doctor’s visit determined to find another path. Then she saw an ad for the National Diabetes Prevention Program.

“It was meant to be,” Giltner said.

She learned the value of being active and exercising, which brought her down to her high school weight. Cutting portions and making better choices helped her navigate diabetes prevention. Other participants shared their stories, and brought in recipes.

With a focus on lifestyle change, the program doesn’t tell people foods to not eat. Rather, it encourages moderation, and making smart choices such as getting vegetables as a side to dinner, rather than starches, or reducing processed snacks.

Giltner hopes the new cohort absorbs the idea of moderation and simple changes so they can still treat themselves and not feel cheated.

“My advice is, no one can do it but yourself. You can learn and you can listen, but only you can incorporate it (into your life),” she said. “Just stay with it.”

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Jessica Soule, MPH, is the executive director of the Cayuga Community Health Network, the rural health network of Cayuga County. Contact her at jsoule@cayugahealthnetwork.org or (315) 252-4212.