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YMCA of Greater Cleveland raises diabetes awareness, helps residents prioritize health

Roughly 1 in 5 people have diabetes and don’t even know it.
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Posted at 6:17 AM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 06:17:17-05

CLEVELAND — November marks National Diabetes Awareness Month, and the YMCA of Greater Cleveland is actively working to help you and your loved ones live your best, healthiest life.

Data shows more than 37 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each day.

Roughly one in five people have diabetes and don’t even know it.

The Y has taken notice and is helping folks across Northeast Ohio prevent diabetes through an interactive year-long program.

Participants say it's been an educational and transformative experience.

“I thought, I’ll give it a try. I can always walk away from it," said Donald Cowling, YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program Participant.

Step by step on the treadmill and at times baby steps through the program, 66-year-old Maple Heights grandfather of four Cowling has successfully changed his life.

“It’s a lot easier to work out when there’s other people around," said Cowling.

Last year, he got a call from the Cleveland Clinic asking if he wanted to take part in the YMCA of Greater Cleveland's Diabetes Prevention Program.

It's offered in Lorain, Cuyahoga, and Geauga counties.

Cowling admits he was hesitant, but he enrolled and ended up working side-by-side with Diabetes Prevention Program Regional Coach Elicia Polacek.

She helped him and nearly two dozen others get on the path toward a wellness journey.

“The program is not a diet program, and it’s not an exercise program," said Polacek.

No restrictive diets.

No mandatory exercise plans.

The program consists of classroom-setting discussions that help you think differently about the foods you consume and what you do in your free time.

It also aims to reduce stress and solve problems. Polacek says there is no pressure, and it's done entirely at your own pace.

“It's a variety of things, but it's about healthy eating. How to be of course physically active. Ways to change your lifestyle. So, they become habits long term," said Polacek.

Cowling's lifestyle change was personal, as his late wife recently passed away from cancer.

He wanted to be there for his four adult-aged children and grandchildren and prioritize himself at the moment, so he could be there for others long term.

“My wife was a diabetic and she had to prick her fingers, and everything else like that and I would cringe," said Cowling.

By walking each day on the treadmill and in his neighborhood and altering the foods he ate, Cowling lost 45 pounds, 7% of his body weight, and lowered his A1C.

“Once I got into it, it came so easy," said Cowling.

Polacek helped formulate a wellness plan and reviewed the best foods to consume to avoid becoming diabetic.

She says it’s vital as Prediabetes affects 86 million Americans.

That’s one out of three adults and one out of two people over age 60.

Cowling says he feels better physically, mentally, and emotionally.

He has this message for anyone considering a lifestyle change:

“Give it a chance, you never know!"

You do not have to be a member of the YMCA to participate in this program.

They do offer scholarships and some insurance companies cover costs.

To qualify for the program, you must be a bit overweight and at risk for developing diabetes.

If your physician has already diagnosed you as diabetic, you are NOT eligible for this program.

For the full list of requirements and ways to apply for the program—click the link below:

Diabetes Prevention Programs | YMCA of Greater Cleveland (

Research shows these preventative programs reduce diabetes in adults by 58%.

Experts say the hardest part is often telling yourself you want to make the lifestyle change and committing to it for the long term.