Medical Referral to Community Program Can Fight Obesity, Prevent Disease

**By Brandon Auerbach, MD, MPH**

Plus Size Woman Meeting With Doctor In SurgeryAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of American adults are obese. Among American teenagers, 21 percent are obese, which is up from only 5 percent in 1980.

Obesity directly contributes to the development of more than 25 chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Obesity also increases the risk of many cancers (e.g., colon, breast, pancreatic, thyroid, esophageal, kidney and gallbladder). This year, the direct medical cost of obesity in the U.S. is estimated to exceed $150 billion.

What is obesity?

Simply put, obesity means having too much body fat. It is different from being overweight, which means weighing too much. The weight may come from muscle, bone, fat or water. Both terms mean that a person’s extra body weight is greater than what is considered healthy for his or her height.

Obesity happens over time when you eat more calories than you burn. The balance between calories-in and calories-out differs for everyone, influenced by diet, level of physical activity and genetics.

Thankfully, if you are obese, losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight can prevent the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, or substantially improve existing disease.

Calculating whether you are overweight or obese

Body Mass Index (BMI) is used as a screening tool for determining whether someone is overweight or obese. Click here to access an adult BMI calculator. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fat.

  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range
  • If your BMI is 18.5 to <25, it falls within the normal
  • If your BMI is 25 to <30, it falls within the overweight range
  • And if your BMI is 30 or higher, it falls within the obese range

At Virginia Mason Primary Care practices, team members weigh and electronically track all patients’ weight so that customized care plans, supported by automated follow-up tools, can be made during primary care visits.

Weight management care plans are different for every person. Virginia Mason has partnered with the YMCA to refer patients with obesity or chronic conditions – like  diabetes or prediabetes – to lifestyle change programs shown in randomized, controlled trials to help patients lose weight, maintain weight loss, and prevent or reverse diabetes and prediabetes.

The YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program

The YMCA’s evidence-based Diabetes Prevention Program helps people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles by eating healthier, increasing physical activity and losing a modest amount of weight to reduce their risk of developing this disease.

In a classroom setting, a trained lifestyle coach helps small groups learn about healthier eating, physical activity and other behavior changes over 25 sessions. The year-long program consists of 16 weekly sessions and two sessions every other week during the first five months, followed by seven monthly sessions. It also includes a three-month membership to the YMCA.

A perspective on the Diabetes Prevention Program

For one Virginia Mason patient, participating in the YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program has been key to his weight loss and better overall health.

“In the past few years my weight crept up to the 230-pound range, my cholesterol kept going up and my physician told me I was prediabetic,” remembers Ray. “At my annual physical last year, I said I was planning to join the YMCA because exercise was something that had been missing in my life over the last few years. My physician told me about the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program and asked if I would be interested. I said yes.”

After going to the first meeting in February 2017, Ray, who is 59 years old, decided this was something he needed to do for himself to get healthier. Since then, he has lost 15 pounds. According to Ray, other benefits of the program include the support from his lifestyle coach, consistent meetings throughout the year and the camaraderie among participants.

“Steps like keeping a daily journal, tracking my weight, trying to keep certain foods at bay and listening to other people’s stories were all very helpful and motivating,” says Ray.

Dr Brandon AuerbachBrandon Auerbach, MD, MPH, practices at Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center. He is board certified in internal medicine and specializes in primary care.
To learn more about the YMCA program and find a location near you, pleas visit: 




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