The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme does lead to measurable improvements in patients’ health, a team of international researchers have concluded.
Statistical analysis of health records from two million patients has shown that at a population level, the programme of intensive lifestyle counselling leads to better glycemic control, reductions in BMI, weight, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides in those with pre-diabetes.
Reporting their findings in Nature, the team of researchers from the UK, Germany, USA, and South Africa said the evidence suggests the approach could be adopted by other countries, and perhaps extended to other non-communicable diseases.
The researchers analysed the data using several models included looking at regional variation that occurred as a result of the phased roll out of the programme.
A previous study had found that the programme had reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes among those taking part by one fifth.
Doctors have had their doubts over whether the programme would work or not, the researchers said. One reason for the scepticism may stem from GPs’ experience that brief counselling — often the only feasible approach in 10-min consultations — may be of limited benefit, they noted.
Study co-author Professor Justine Davies, from the University of Birmingham, said the findings clearly demonstrated the ‘huge benefits’ of intensive lifestyle counselling for improving the health of patients with pre-diabetes.
‘The evidence also suggests a promising route for improving population health more broadly,” she added.
‘The positive effects observed in the programme may also extend to other non-communicable diseases such as cancer, which is increasingly thought to be connected to unhealthy lifestyle habits and environments.’
Julia Lemp from the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, who led the study added: ‘Our results show beyond reasonable doubt that investments in programmes such as this should continue.
‘At the same time, there are many people at risk for diabetes who remain underserved by existing care pathways and for whom targeted prevention strategies should be further explored.’
Professor Partha Kar, NHS England’s national specialty adviser for diabetes, said: ‘This important study provides further evidence that our world-leading NHS prevention programme is changing lives, supporting hundreds of thousands of people to make sustainable healthy lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.’
RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne, said the fact that a prevention programme has shown promising results was welcome news for GPs and their patients.
‘With the rates of type 2 diabetes set to increase in the UK and globally in the coming years, prevention programmes will be a valuable tool in curbing what could develop into a serious challenge in public health – they deserve greater attention from policymakers.’
A pilot study by NHS Humber and North Yorkshire ICB last year found that texting eligible patients about the NDPP brought about a ten-fold increase in referrals.