The program has helped over 150,000 patients.
Credit: Getty: BSIP / Contributor

Prediabetes is defined by the CDC as a “serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes.” The CDC estimates that up to 84 million Americans are prediabetic, and a staggering 90% are unaware of it. For reference, 9 out of every 10 Americans with diabetes has the often preventable type II, rather than the autoimmune-caused type I.

The American Diabetes Association estimates the economic cost of diabetes and prediabetes to be somewhere around $322 billion. Costs in productivity, quality of life, and other soft metrics aren’t as easily calculable, but are by no means any less important.

With that in mind, the CDC has put together a curriculum called the National Diabetes Prevention Program, to try to stem the tide of prediabetes progressing to the more insidious type II. Classes are available through CDC-approved institutions and programs. So just go to the handy class finder, sign up, attend your meetings, and it’s all good, right?

Not so much. What about if you live in a remote location? Work odd hours? Have unreliable transportation? Into this breach steps Omada.

Omada describes itself as a “digital behavior change program.” We spoke with the Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Public Policy at Omada, Adam Brickman, and he was kind enough to run down the program for us. The problem with traditionally administered NDPP programs, says Brickman, lies with the fact that most programs are effective because they require face-to-face interaction between participants and adjudicators, but that leaves the huge problem of access. What Omada seeks to do is to recreate the experience of being in a classroom through digital interaction and intervention.

Omada, founded in 2011, administers a curriculum based on the NDPP and approved by the CDC. It has served more than 150,000 patients and, thanks to deals with partners such as Cigna, hopes expand even more in 2018. The primary benefit to delivering these programs digitally, says Brickman, is that they can do it in a scalable way. Omada is now the largest provider of the NDPP in the country. The program itself is a mix of exercise and weight tracking (weight here being a proxy for blood sugar levels), along with support from both a coach and a group of peers.

Though there is currently no specific “diet” curriculum, clients do learn, among other techniques, how to build a better plate. Brickman says that more recipe-specific content is under development. The main breakthrough for most clients? That cooking healthily at home is achievable, affordable, and even pleasurable.

Does it work? Just ask Don Speranza, a chef and proud Omada client, who says, “You can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Speranza received the news that he was prediabetic last year. He described hearing the news as “a gut punch.” Speranza lives in a rural area, so in-person meetings or appointments just aren’t realistic for him. His doctor recommended Omada as a preventative measure. Less than a year later, Speranza has lost about 50 pounds and, he says, “It is not hyperbolic to say that it’s [been] life-changing.” He sings the praises of his coach, who helped him to feel empowered about making healthy choices—she also, he laughs, challenged him, which worked out for the better. Today, he says, his wife frequently looks at him and says she can’t believe it’s him.

Most often, the program is made available to people (like Speranza) through their health care providers or corporate wellness programs that are banking on the fact that the program will cost less than paying out huge dollars for treatment down the line.

When we spoke to Speranza, he had recently gone on vacation in what he reasonably argues is one of the best locales for food in the world (the Bay Area), and he didn’t gain any weight.  “Past trips have always been a sort of moveable feast. But I’m learning how to be my own coach, I’ve got tools now, I know how to make healthier choices. And,” he adds, “now I know how to indulge without overindulging.”