Shedding a few kilos nearly halves risk of diabetes – study

Providing support to help people with prediabetes make small changes to their lifestyle, diet and physical activity can almost halve the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

The Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study (NDPS) is the largest diabetes prevention research study in the world in the last 30 years.  Results from the eight-year clinical trial, which involved over 1,000 people with prediabetes at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, have just been published in the international journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers found that support to make modest lifestyle changes, including losing two to three kilograms of weight and increased physical activity over two years, reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 40 to 47 per cent for those categorised as having prediabetes.

There are about eight million people with prediabetes in the UK and 4.5 million have already developed Type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the University of Birmingham and Exeter contributed to the NDPS, which was funded by £2.5m from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and NIHR CRN Eastern and led by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and University of East Anglia (UEA).   

The research trial tested a simple lifestyle intervention, which helped people make small achievable lifestyle changes that led to a modest weight loss, and increases in physical activity. Importantly these changes were sustained for at least two years and the weight lost was not put back on. These findings are important as they show that a “real-world” lifestyle programme can make a difference in helping people reduce risk of Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes.   

Professor Mike Sampson, NDPS Chief Investigator and Consultant in Diabetes at NNUH, said: “We are delighted with the results of this trial, as until now no one was very sure if a real-world lifestyle programme prevented Type 2 diabetes in the prediabetes population we studied, as there have been no clinical trials that had shown this. We have now shown a significant effect in Type 2 diabetes prevention, and we can be very optimistic that even a modest weight loss, and an increase in physical activity, in real world programmes like this have a big effect on the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.”

NDPS ran between 2011 and 2018 and found 144,000 people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  In screening sites across the East of England, 13,000 of these people then took a fasting glucose and glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) blood test to detect prediabetes. More than 1,000 people with prediabetes were then entered into a randomised controlled trial, testing a pragmatic real-world lifestyle intervention, compared to a control group, with average follow-up of just over two years. 

Earlier studies used intense and expensive research interventions in different groups of prediabetes participants, but this is the first time a real world group-delivered intervention has been shown to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Colin Greaves, Professor of Psychology Applied to Health at University of Birmingham, who jointly led the development of the NDPS intervention, said: “If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, this approach offers a way to take a different direction in your life – to get off the path to type 2 diabetes and onto the road to a healthier future.”

Max Bachmann, NDPS co-investigator and Professor of Health Services Research at University of East Anglia, said: The NDPS intervention was delivered in groups which was far less expensive than individual-focused interventions which have previously shown to be effective under optimal conditions. For every 11 people who received the NDPS intervention, one person was prevented from getting Type 2 diabetes, which is a real breakthrough.”

Dr Jane Smith, NDPS collaborator from the University of Exeter, added: “Type 2 diabetes is a huge health challenge globally. NDPS is an incredibly positive story for individuals and healthcare systems, and underlines the importance of providing national diabetes prevention programmes, which can use our research findings.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, commented: “We welcome this new research showing that a group-based support programme can help people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes reduce their risk. This trial again highlights how achieving modest weight loss through diet and physical activity changes can lead to huge benefits for people at high risk of developing type 2. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition, but with the right help many cases can be prevented or delayed.”