CHICAGO -- In a move designed to save health insurance costs to treat diabetic patients, insurer UnitedHealth Group announced a partnership today with the YMCA of the USA in which it will reimburse the nonprofit organization for lifestyle coaching at YMCA facilities.

The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program was designed for people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. About 24 million Americans currently live with diabetes, and another 57 million have pre-diabetes.

For the 16-week program, trained YMCA lifestyle coaches will work with participants to develop better exercise programs and eating habits. The goals of the program are to help people with pre-diabetes achieve and maintain weight loss of at least 7 percent by eating healthy and increasing physical activity to 150 minutes per week. After the initial sessions, participants will meet monthly for up to a year for maintenance support.

“We are thrilled to work with UnitedHealth Group and be part of a new paradigm in health care that is focused on prevention,” Neil Nicoll, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA, said in a statement. “YMCAs are at work in nearly 10,000 communities nationwide, so we are uniquely positioned to take this program to such scale that it can have a real impact on the lives of people at risk for diabetes, as well as their families.”

The YMCA program is based on the Diabetes Prevention Program funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that a person with pre-diabetes could prevent or delay the onset of the disease by 58 percent with lifestyle changes and weight reduction. Unlike the NIH program, which was conducted with individuals one-on-one, the Y’s program will occur in a group setting.

The program will begin at YMCAs in seven cities—Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton, OH; Indianapolis; Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN; and Phoenix—and will expand throughout 2010 and beyond, according to Y officials.

“Insurance coverage for these programs is a crucial step in getting more people to participate and achieve these results,” Richard Bergenstal, MD, president, Medicine & Science of the American Diabetes Association, said in a statement. “Lifestyle changes, like the ones promoted in this program, can help stop diabetes before it develops.”

UnitedHealth Group also pledged $2.25 million for a three-year grant to support YMCA of the USA’s healthy living efforts, in addition to its commitment to the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program.