Berkshire residents at risk of getting Type 2 diabetes have a year-long opportunity to stave off the preventable disease.

The Berkshire Eagle reports Berkshire Health Systems is launching an intensive program to help participants prevent the onset of illness through exercise, proper diet and weight loss.

Classes should get underway by late September, with space limited to 15 people, according to Candace Lusa, director of the BHS diabetes education program. If interest is high, a second group will be formed, with the time and days of the classes to be determined.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report an estimated 25 percent of the approximately 645,000 Massachusetts residents with diabetes know they have the disease — a figure Lusa wants to keep from rising.

Under the auspices of the CDC's National Diabetes Prevent Program, the BHS program starts out with 16 weekly sessions over a six-month period, followed by six monthly meetings.

Participants must be willing to attend all sessions, log food eaten and the amount of time exercising. Priority will be given to applicants who are pre-diagnosed but don't actually have Type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetics have higher-than-normal blood sugar, but not enough to actually have Type 2 diabetes, the most common diabetes. They are also at risk of heart disease or suffering a stroke.

A representative of the program will conduct a pre-diabetes assessment questionnaire for each applicant. Medicare recipients can participate for free; others should check with their insurance providers to see if there are any out-of-pocket costs.

Lusa said the program is about acquiring life-changing skills to improve one's health, resulting in lowering the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

For more information or to enroll in the program, call 413-395-7942.

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