On September 11th, the Health Federation of Philadelphia’s (HFP) Marcy Witherspoon walked into Project HOME’s Stephen Klein Wellness Center optimistic that she was going to play a part in changing lives – she just wasn’t sure how many. Witherspoon, a senior training specialist with HFP, was charged with the task of organizing and facilitating the Health Federation’s pilot group of the National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP), an evidence-based program that is intended to prevent the development of Type 2 Diabetes, or delay the onset. “It’s not a weight loss program – it’s a lifestyle change program,” Witherspoon stated. “It’s about healthy eating and positive choices. We don’t use the word diet and we don’t use the word exercise.”
According to Witherspoon, there has been steady participation during the program’s first few sessions, and there are eight to twelve individuals (mostly Project HOME patients) who come regularly and are really invested in the program. Project HOME doctors and nurses have referred people to the program, and the staff has also helped with recruitment and keeping the participants engaged. "Project HOME has been a wonderful partner -- they have assisted with patient referrals, the provision of snacks and resources, and are helping with data collection,” she stated.
The program, which meets weekly, is a group for pre-diabetic individuals to gather and address the epidemic. “One of every three people is pre-diabetic,” said Witherspoon. “And nine out of ten of those individuals don’t even know, because it’s not something that necessarily gets checked for in every primary care practice,” she continued. During the sessions, participants share ideas about increasing physical activity and making more mindful choices, discuss healthy eating habits, and talk challenges in breaking negative and long-established patterns.
Witherspoon, a certified DPP Lifestyle Coach, is working toward becoming a master trainer, which would allow her to train other individuals to become lifestyle coaches. Her goal is a heavy lift: Witherspoon’s group must lose 5-7% of their body mass index (BMI) over the course of 6 months, and then must maintain this goal for a year through a combination of reducing their caloric intake and increasing their physical activity. “This is a great group,” she shared. “They are supportive and caring of one another. They applaud each other’s progress, and also encourage one another when they fall short. There is no blame or shame here; we don’t make anyone feel bad. What we do is help each other pay attention and become self-aware in order to make modest changes that will improve overall health.”
Tracking food intake and recognizing stress or trauma-related eating habits are just a handful of change strategies that people are employing to become more self-aware. “It’s not prescriptive – per se - but the group helps you look at yourself in a way that allows you to examine where there are possibilities for incremental change that will work for you. How do you incorporate what you need or what you like into a healthier daily regimen that pays attention to caloric intake and the amount of fat you’re ingesting in comparison to what you’re burning? We want these changes to be feasible and longstanding,” shared Witherspoon.
Witherspoon has been keeping things exciting and on target, even with including physical activity within the sessions, like dancing. She even started incentivizing participation by leveraging contacts to help make things more exciting. “A colleague of mine has an urban farm, and people who participate consistently have been awarded with ‘veggie scripts’ for freshly picked, locally grown, pesticide free produce. The class loves it, and they’re really supporting one another on this behavioral change journey so that these modest changes they make are sustainable.”
To learn more about Project HOME's Diabetes Prevention Program and others like it, visit http://healthfederation.org/DiabetesPrevention.