A year after it began with 14 participants, the Diabetes Prevention Program in Warm Springs has successfully guided over 50 tribal members through the program, and now has its own center.
"The program has made a difference. Nobody has converted to being diabetic and that's a big success," said Montell Elliott, recruitment coordinator for the diabetes program.
Funded by a five-year federal grant, the program targets tribal people with prediabetes in an effort to keep them from developing full-blown diabetes.
Because Native Americans have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, prevention grants were awarded to 36 Indian tribes, including Warm Springs, where the program is overseen by the Indian Health Service.
According to research, it is possible to prevent diabetes by exercising more, eating healthier food and losing weight, and that's what the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) offers -- all for free.
Community screenings are offered weekly to determine if people are at risk with prediabetes. Screenings are also done at the new spacious DPP Center at 1142 Warm Springs St., (across from the Presbyterian Church).
In addition to Elliott, the center has three employees who are all graduates of the DDP program: Winona Stwyer and Edmund Francis, who are lifestyle coaches, and Angelena Smith, the receptionist and data entry assistant.
Classes on nutrition, physical fitness and weight loss are held in the center's meeting room which has a kitchen for nutritional cooking demonstrations. The center also has its own weight scales and workout equipment for participants to use.
"Support Breakfasts" are hosted every Monday at various workplaces on the reservation.
"At the Support Breakfasts, we try to get people to eat breakfast and eat healthy," said Elliott, noting fast food options are loaded with calories.
According to a calorie counter booklet participants receive, a Carl's Jr. breakfast burrito has 560 calories, compared with a bowl of Quaker instant oatmeal at 100 calories.
Smoothies are another good quick breakfast choice, when they're made with low-fat milk and frozen fruit, Elliott suggested.
A table at the center is stacked with "educational tools" participants can earn by attending class, visiting their lifestyle coach, and turning in food and exercise journals. Items include crock pots, exercise balls, dumb bells, walking shoes, popcorn air poppers, and George Forman grills.
"The crockpots are for people who say they don't have the time to eat healthy," Elliot said, noting people can turn a crockpot full of vegetable soup on low when they go to work and come home to a ready-to-eat meal.
In another room, a display case holds plastic models of pasta, cereal, fruits and other items from the food pyramid, which are used to teach people proper portion sizes.
Elliott is certified in coaching healthy behaviors and providing nutritional guidance, and said she hopes to also become a personal trainer within the year.
Just teaching the classes last year made a difference in her own lifestyle. "I lost 16 pounds during the classes myself. I didn't used to eat vegetables, maybe three a week, but now I eat three a day," Elliott admitted.
To promote exercise, the DDP started a Walking Club, which meets every Wednesday at noon with the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day (there are 2,000 steps in a mile). Additional walks are held at 3 p.m., on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Museum at Warm Springs and the tribal administration office to encourage employees to spend their 15-minute breaks walking.
Yoga, Latin aerobics, enhanced fitness for seniors, cardio workouts and other exercise activities are also offered regularly at the Warm Springs Community Center.
"Physical fitness is such a big part. If people stick with physical exercise, they're better at maintaining their weight loss," Elliott said.
The DDP encourages maintenance of positive changes by assigning participants lifestyle coaches for one-on-one help, and by doing three follow-up visits with course graduates, at 12 months, 18 months and 24 months after classes end.
Winona Stwyer, who took the classes last year and now works at the center, is a shining example for those she now coaches.
"I've lost over 60 pounds now, and I'm walking 10,000 steps a day due to the Walking Club and walking during breaks with my coworkers," Stwyer said, adding with a laugh, "If I get lazy, I get drug out the door."
Stwyer said she never used to drink milk or eat breakfast, but does now. "I can feel a difference. I'm starving now if I don't eat breakfast," she said.
Her new diet includes more fruits, vegetables and water, and less pop and fast food.
"I used to go to McDonald's daily, but I've cut back and go just once in a while and order a Happy Meal," she said.
Elliott said the Diabetes Prevention Program is still seeking more participants, and the 16-week class will be offered on April 15, and again in October.
"We could take at least 50 more people," she noted.
Those interested in the program may call the DDP center at 553-1070, or 553-7718, stop by the center for a free screening, or attend one of the weekly community screenings.
The center is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and some evenings when classes are in session.