Weather Forecast


Program designed to prevent diabetes

When Dixie Pakarinen went in to see her doctor for a regular checkup last June, she learned she was prediabetic.

The Brainerd woman was asked by her doctor if she’d be willing to participate in a pilot diabetes prevention program for people like her who were borderline diabetic. 

That was last fall. The 16-week program, I Can Prevent Diabetes, offered through Essentia Health-Brainerd Medical Center in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, changed her life.

“It was the best thing I could have ever done,” said Pakarinen. “It was eye-opening and extremely helpful. I feel 100 percent better.”

Pakarinen, 62, lost 30 pounds during the program and her blood sugar levels dropped. Even her high blood pressure improved. Through the one-hour weekly classes, she learned about limiting her fat intake and kept food and exercise journals. She also received feedback from program staff on her journals. She bought a Wii gaming system and started working out. At first she could only jog using the Wii for about two minutes before getting too winded, but after about six weeks in the program she could make it about 15 minutes. 

Pakarinen also enjoyed the support from the other participants. A few of them joined her and other diabetes program staff for last fall’s Diabetes Walk at the Northland Arboretum. Pakarinen was proud of herself for walking the entire six-mile walk, something she feels she couldn’t have done before. 

“It was just a wonderful group of people,” said Pakarinen. “I enjoyed meeting and talking with every one of them. Each one had brought in different ideas on how to cut fat from everyday foods and different experiences with exercise. It was very informative. I’m so glad I was picked to be in the first class.”

Danette Holznagel, diabetes resource program coordinator for Essentia Health, coordinates the I Can Prevent Diabetes program. She wrote a grant through Medica in May which allowed Essentia Health to offer the pilot program for 11 participants last fall. Participants also pay $160 to be involved in the program. A second round of classes started last month with seven participants. The next series of classes will begin May 4. 

The new program is mostly offered at YMCAs in the state and Essentia Health is the only facility in central Minnesota to offer it. The next nearest location is a YMCA in Alexandria. 

Holznagel said those eligible for this program are those who are prediabetic, or those who may likely develop diabetes within the next 10 years.

She said the Minnesota Department of Health is seeking national recognition for this program, which used data from the fall group sessions, and it’s possible in the future it could be certified by Medicare, which may mean it would be covered by most health insurance providers. 

Holznagel said studies have shown lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by 58 percent. 

Holznagel said the 11 participants last fall lost a total of 167 pounds and many dramatically improved their blood glucose levels. She is hoping in the future to offer a maintenance support group for those who graduate from the program.

Dietitian Mary Lange was recently sent to training to help teach the program, which may allow Holznagel to offer more than one series of classes at one time. The diabetes team that helps run the program includes dietitian Michelle Pelkey and Barb Risnes, who is board certified in advanced diabetes management. The weekly sessions are at Essentia Health-Brainerd Medical Center. 

“The need is so great,” Holznagel said of diabetes prevention programs. She also offers diabetes support programs for those who have been diagnosed with the disease.

“I would highly recommend it for anyone who is borderline,” said Pakarinen. “Just take that class if you have the opportunity to do so. I know I learned so much in there. It’s been so helpful to me. I haven’t put back on any of the weight and am still doing exercises. But it’s still about everyday choices.”

JODIE TWEED may be reached at or 855-5858.