By Sandy K. Johnson

Your local YMCA isn’t just a place to exercise.

The Y wants people to think of it as a hub for evidence-based health interventions, such as diabetes prevention, arthritis management, cancer survivor support, brain health and childhood obesity.

Diabetes in particular is a focus, according to Heather Hodge, senior director of evidence-based health interventions. A few stats:

* More than 30 million Americans have diabetes in 2017;

*A quarter of those are undiagnosed, and thus, untreated.

*Another 84 million Americans are prediabetic, including almost half of adults over 65.

The Y developed a Diabetes Prevention Program that is focused on weight, exercise and nutrition. It’s a yearlong program that costs $429 per person; you don’t have to be a YMCA member. Some insurance companies are recognizing the program as a preventive service and helping offset the cost. A big change will come in April 2018 when Medicare will cover the program.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services studied the YMCA diabetes program and estimated it saves $2,650 in health costs per person over 15 months – a big offset for the $429 price tag.

For journalists covering public health, the program is widely available. The Y offers the diabetes prevention program at 250 of its own 2,700 branches, and also at hundreds of community centers, workplaces, churches – even a few grocery stores, airports and a car dealership in Wisconsin. Here’s a Zip code locator.

“We’ll work with anybody to make it easier to engage with the service,” Hodge said. They have partners to make the program available in low-income communities; 22 percent of participants are low-income, and trainers speak languages from Spanish to Somali.

Outcomes so far? Of 55,000 people who participated, they reported a 5.5 percent weight loss in a year and averaged 162 minutes of physical activity a week.