My Y Story

Winnebago Battles Diabetes


The banner on the door to the Whirling Thunder Wellness Center’s Ho Chunk Hope classroom in Winnebago, Nebraska reads “A diabetes free future”. The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program has joined to help make this proclamation come true.

Inside, fifteen residents meet weekly to discuss lifestyle changes that can help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Today’s topic included stretching, soreness and ways to get active during periods of inactivity. They contemplated their shortcomings and offered recipe tips over a healthy lunch of chicken enchilada salad.

“We want to shine the light on the preventable nature of diabetes and stop this epidemic,” said Linae Bigfire, Whirling Thunder Program Director. “We used to run our own program, but it has a high dropout. Now, the [YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program’s] curriculum sells itself and with the image the Y has, we hope this partnership and program continues for a long time.”

An estimated 29 million American adults have diabetes and 86 million have prediabetes, or about 1 in 3.


But prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are even more common among the Native American community, the majority of residents in Winnebago.

15.9% of all Native adults will eventually develop type 2 diabetes, compared to roughly 5.6% of all Iowans and Nebraskans.

One participant said, “I was surprised I was so far on the road to [type 2] diabetes. Things could have gotten bad if I left the problem unchecked. And I want to stay healthy through my ‘golden years’ so I can spend time with my grandchildren.”

But prediabtes doesn’t always lead to type 2 diabetes and can be reversed.

“Awareness is the key to knowing your risk,” said the Y’s Prescription Health Program Coordinator Amanda Caboth. “Almost 90% of Americans considered to be prediabetic don’t know they have a problem. But once diabetes fully hits, the consequences of poor diet and lack of physical activity can be dire.”

Bigfire continued, “Before any of this started, those at risk would go to the doctor and the doctor would tell them, ‘You need to eat healthier and exercise.’ But what does that mean? This program finally gives an answer.”

Now this proactive group, while charting food intake and journaling their exercise, are spreading the word about healthier futures.

“It’s great to hear something different from a new point of view. I hope everyone would take advantage of all opportunities to learn about health. Diabetes is serious and I don’t want to deal with it!” another participant said.