WORTHINGTON - A University of Minnesota Extension program aimed at improving the health of pre-diabetics is seeing success as the second class of adults wrapped up a 16-week I Can Prevent Diabetes (ICPD) education and exercise program earlier this week in Worthington.

Led by Nobles County SNAP-Ed educator Maria Conchita Paez Sievert, the current class of 11 women has lost a combined 150 pounds in a span of four months. The weight loss has led to other positive health outcomes, from lower blood pressure to reduced cholesterol levels and an increase in energy among participants.

Sievert, leading this particular class in Spanish, set a goal for class members to lose a combined 160 pounds this year. Seeing them reach that goal earlier this week - and in just four months - gave her a great sense of pride, and her classmates as well.

Since mid-February, the group has met once a week for a one-hour class and a 45-minute exercise routine led by a trainer at the YMCA in Worthington. Sievert said the women have formed their own support group, sharing their successes and challenges with each other.

During the class, Sievert teaches them about proper nutrition and developing a healthy lifestyle. They learn to read food labels, add more fruits and vegetables into their diet and track calorie and fat intake.

“We are teaching them to be aware of portion sizes,” Sievert said.

When they return to class, she checks their progress, from weight loss to each participant’s goals for the week, food tracker and exercise tracker. She’s also a great motivator for each of the women.

Now that the 16-week program is done, class members will continue to meet once a month for the next seven months, just to ensure they stay on track, stay motivated and maintain their healthier lifestyle.

Mathilda Arellano has lost 23 pounds since she started the ICPD program. When she recently visited the Open Door clinic in Worthington, her blood pressure was lower and her cholesterol level had improved.

“I eat less fatty stuff, smaller portions,” Arellano said. “I eat vegetables and fruit, do physical activity - no bread, no pop, less tortillas, no fries or chips.”

“Before, I didn’t used to eat vegetables,” said Azucena Comparan. “Now my body is getting more used to them and I can eat vegetables.”

She has also learned to increase her water intake.

Maria Soto said she does a lot of exercise now and writes down everything she puts in her mouth. Taking charge of her health has helped her to lose 18 pounds since starting the program.

“Primarily before this class, they were walking,” said SNAP Ed Educator Leticia Rodriguez. “Most didn’t do exercise.”

Leonor Soto said she’d take her kids to the park and sit and watch them play. Now she walks around the park while her kids are having fun. She’s able to keep an eye on them and get her exercise in at the same time.

“If they eat healthy, they’re going to feed their family healthy,” Sievert added.

To qualify for the I Can Prevent Diabetes program, participants must be considered either pre-diabetic or have had gestational diabetes, be overweight and be at least 18 years of age. While the class is open to men, Rodriguez said they have not had any males enroll in the full program. She is nearly done teaching a third ICPD class and the two educators plan to offer their fourth class - their third in the Spanish language - beginning in August.

The program is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and SNAP-Ed educators are trained. Community Wellness Partners is funding child care and transportation, and the YMCA offers its facility for class meetings and a reduced rate membership for participants.

As for Sievert’s first group, they will meet again in July for a Cooking Matters class that will offer tips on preparing healthier foods and recipes to try new things.

“I am really proud of them,” she said. “Each of them, individually, brings something to the table. Each has barriers to overcome.”

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