Project helps prevent Type 2 diabetes

Clients embrace during a Skinny Gene Project event. (photo by Natalja Karol/courtesy of Healthy Gene Project)

Project helps prevent Type 2 diabetes

After losing her aunt to unexpected complications from type 2 diabetes, Marlayna Bollinger created a way to help people prevent this disease.

“If somebody had just given her the tools to teach her about diabetes, then she would have known how to manage the disease,” said Bollinger of her aunt.

Bollinger founded the Skinny Gene Project in 2014, located at 10620 Treena St., Suite 230, in Scripps Ranch. She also serves as the executive director.

“That was the catalyst for me – when I realized my aunt’s story was not unique at all and that this is something that affects so many people,” she said.

The organization, which is funded by donations, aims to increase access to evidence-based prevention programs for pre-diabetics – people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The organization pursues its mission to educate and empower through trainings, speaking engagements, advocacy work and the core program, the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). The program is a lifestyle modification intervention formed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a national level.

“The real issue we have to address is access, because information without application is useless,” Bollinger said.

The Skinny Gene Project was the first organization to bring this program into San Diego county. It partners with clinics, hospitals, YMCAs and community centers throughout San Diego, including the Scripps Ranch Community Center. Now it is expanding into Riverside and Orange counties.

“We’re trying to create these very sustainable ecosystems of prevention throughout the different communities in Southern California,” Bollinger said.

In the year-long program, an average of 10-12 people meet in-person on a weekly basis for six months, then monthly for the remainder of the year. During the weekly sessions, a facilitator presents lessons focused on lifestyle, including diet, physical activity, stress and mindfulness.

“Our programs are fun and energetic, and people become a family afterwards,” Bollinger said.

The group addresses the obstacles they face with an action plan and are kept accountable to ensure they’re making the necessary modifications to improve their health.

“It’s really making small, sustainable changes,” Bollinger said. “We call it a lifestyle change because we want to help people implement things in their lives that they can do for the rest of their lives.”

To measure the effectiveness of the program, the Skinny Gene Project team submits data to the CDC on the people they’ve helped. They measure behavioral changes – one of the goals for their participants is to lose at least 5 percent body weight and to keep it off for one year. They also take an anecdotal approach, assessing how members feel before and after the program. The DPP is in the top 3 percent of evidence-based provision programs in the country and has full-recognition, meaning it has strong evidence of efficacy.

“It’s mind blowing how many people in the U.S. are pre-diabetic and no one really seems to be talking about it,” said Belen Mercado, a graduate of the DPP program.

She’s now becoming a health lifestyle coach with the Skinny Gene Project.

“I became a coach to empower myself and live a longer life for my children, and along the way I will also help others do the same,” Mercado said.

According to Bollinger, if prediabetes isn’t stopped, there is a 70 percent chance a prediabetic will develop diabetes.

“Prediabetes is not just a condition, it’s an opportunity,” Bollinger said. “And it’s your last opportunity to prevent type 2.”

Those interested to see if they qualify for the program can visit

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