Gretchen Broecker wasn’t sure if Summit County needed her help.
Colorado often ranks as the leanest state in the country — even though a 2011 study suggests that one in five Coloradans are obese. Summit County, however, had one of the lowest obesity percentages statewide.
“They don’t need a dietitian in Summit County. We’re never going to be able to move up there,” she told her husband.
Broecker, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator living in Denver, wanted to move with her family to Summit County but thought the community’s residents were too active and health-conscious to support her profession.
A High Country Healthcare study contradicted that assumption. The study found that of the patients seen at the clinic in the last year, 6,000 had a body mass index of 25 or greater, which classifies them as overweight or obese.
“Summit County is becoming more of a normal, I guess you could say, community,” she said.
That’s why High Country Healthcare is bringing Broecker on board full time next month.
Broecker comes with more than 15 years of experience counseling patients on nutrition, diabetes management and weight control.
She lived in Denver for the last 10 years, most recently working as diabetes educator and program coordinator for the primary care group New West Physicians Diabetes and Nutrition Center.
“We’ve been doing the weekend shuffle for 10 years,” she said.
Raised in a small town in Minnesota, Broecker earned her bachelor’s in human nutrition and exercise science from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and her master’s in food science and nutrition from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
“Summit County just feels more like home to us,” she said. “We just love the community feel up there.”
Broecker will lead a 10-week group weight-loss class with the help of High Country Healthcare’s family practitioners, Drs. Adele Morano and Elizabeth Winfield.
Each class will focus on a nutrition- or activity-related topic, from how to grocery shop more effectively and make healthy restaurant choices to how to recognize emotional triggers, change behaviors and eat more mindfully.
Broecker said the class is targeted to the people who’ve tried diet after diet, can’t seem to keep the weight off and might be frustrated and angry.
“Every single time I have people say, ‘I know what to do,’” said Broecker, who has led weight-management groups for more than a decade and served as a lecturer and instructor at the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.
She said she will teach students how to make some changes that they will keep for life.
“Gretchen really knows how to connect with people in order to teach them so that this critical information will stay with them,” Winfield said.
Participants will keep detailed food diaries, which will be reviewed carefully, and will meet briefly with Broecker at the start of each session.
The practice will also start offering one-on-one counseling separate from the group class.
Though BMI is not a perfect measure, she said, it’s important to consider weight as a risk factor.
“I hate scales because I think they can be really dissuading for people,” she said. “That number doesn’t matter.”
She encourages people to think of risk factors as a stairway. Each risk factor moves someone up the stairway toward chronic diseases like diabetes, she said, but an individual risk factor doesn’t mean someone will get the disease.
“You have to take everything into account,” she said, “not just your weight.”
Broecker grew up with a dad who struggled with diabetes and will also provide diabetes care and management for the practice.
She will work alongside Dr. Durant Abernethy, a High Country Healthcare internist and pediatrician who focuses on management of chronic conditions, including diabetes, with which he was diagnosed almost a decade ago.
“Now in every appointment instead of trying to cram an hour’s worth of things into 15 minutes, we can tag team this,” he said.
Abernethy said both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are becoming more problematic as they are diagnosed more frequently across the nation. He added that for every person diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, there are five others with undiagnosed pre-diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.
“If you catch it in the pre-diabetes state,” Broecker said, “there’s so much more opportunity to prevent the onset of diabetes.”
A certified insulin pump trainer, Broecker will also work with the practice’s OB/GYN specialists to help pregnant patients with gestational diabetes.