Hope 80/20: A Hospital’s Lifestyle Plan for Weight Loss and Diabetes Prevention

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), almost 11 percent of Pennsylvania adults have diabetes, while one in three is prediabetic. “This means that almost half of all Pennsylvanians either have diabetes or are at significant risk of developing diabetes,” according to the DOH’s website.

One of the top 10 chronic diseases in America, diabetes occurs when an individual’s blood sugar levels are above normal. The disease is related to stroke, heart disease, kidney problems, and other serious health conditions…but in many cases, it’s preventable.

Jeril Goss is a registered dietitian, licensed dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist who serves as the manager of the Diabetes and Nutrition Wellness Center and the endocrinology practice at Penn Highlands DuBois. Since joining the hospital in 1982, Goss says educating folks about diet started with her own passion. “I just really believe that we are what we eat and what we do,” she says. “I wanted to be able to share that with people.”

While her role first saw her working primarily with inpatients, Goss says the health system’s evolution toward community outreach to prevent diabetes has been exciting. “I really like the outpatient focus because there are more opportunities to do groups and work with people interested in making lifestyle changes.”

In particular, Goss is passionate about the Diabetes Prevention Program, which Penn Highlands has offered for several years. The current program is based on a major multicenter research study that found patients who underwent no medication and no lifestyle change saw a zero-percent decrease in diabetes cases. Medication alone led to a 31 percent decrease, while a lifestyle change program addressing nutrition and exercise habits led to a 58 percent decrease in diabetes for participants under age 60, and a 71 percent decrease for those over 60.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) then launched that program for healthcare organizations across the country to lead in their communities. Since 2017, Penn Highlands has been one of those, having led three cohorts of participants through the year-long program that focuses on achievable nutrition and fitness goals. The weight loss goal is 7 percent for the whole year at a slow pace of one to two pounds per week, with 150 minutes of moderate physical activity. Through a process of tracking food consumption, physical activity, and weekly group education sessions, dozens of individuals (in some cases, including couples) have transformed their lifestyles and defied their previous risk of a diabetes diagnosis.

Even healthcare professionals at Penn Highlands have found impact in the program for themselves. “Working in the cardiac rehab setting, I know the risk factors,” says Bernie Adamson, a registered nurse in the Penn Highlands DuBois cardiac rehabilitation unit. “My dad was diabetic, and I had tried numerous weight loss techniques. I knew I needed help more than what I could do on my own.” For her, the appeal of the Penn Highlands program was that it wasn’t a gimmick. “I knew Jeril and that it was a hospital-based program, so I felt comfortable.” Adamson saw 55 pounds come off—“Plus, I felt better, and my lab values came down,” she says.

Kathy Ellenberger is also a registered nurse at Penn Highlands who was inspired by the diabetes prevention program’s impact on a few of her colleagues. “Someone I work with was in the first cohort, and I was so impressed with what she accomplished. I had high blood pressure, and I thought, ’I can do something about this and take control.’ It was fantastic.” In all, Ellenberger lost 30 pounds. “You really get on a wagon, and you’re feeling good about it,” she says, because the program delivered feasible changes. “I could sustain that over my life.”

Both Adamson and Ellenberger embraced the year-long diabetes prevention program so much that both are now instructors themselves. “This is a safe, structured program that’s good for anybody,” Adamson says. “You don’t need to be significantly overweight.”

The most recent program launch, called HOPE 80/20, is available entirely online and has already seen record-breaking enrollment. “The name HOPE 80/20 came from thinking that as you make lifestyle changes, focus on 80 percent good, and plan to save 20 percent for a treat,” Goss explains.

The all-online program is timely, says Goss. “The live cohorts we’ve offered in recent years have been popular, but at this time, the virtual opportunity is a welcome alternative. HOPE 80/20 will offer our participants convenience, as the course can be viewed anytime, anywhere.” In specific, Goss hopes new mothers who have dealt with gestational diabetes will enroll. “They’re at such great risk to develop diabetes within five to 10 years,” Goss says. “This program helps to get that in check.”

To take the quiz to learn if you qualify for Penn Highlands Healthcare’s HOPE 80/20 program, visit https://hope8020.com/pennhighlands/.