People who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes should be sent to Weight Watchers by their GP, according to a new study.
Patients whose blood sugar levels are above the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed with the condition, could benefit from signing up for the weight management programme, experts say.
Researchers discovered that there were “considerable reductions” in diabetes risk, as well as an average weight loss of 10kg (22Ibs), within a year of patients being referred.
Participants were recruited from 14 GP surgeries in Bromley, southeast London.
They had a body mass index (BMI) score of more than 30, which signifies they are clinically obese, as well as non-diabetic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
The participants were offered the chance to take part in a diabetes prevention programme with Weight Watchers, which comprised of a 90 minute “activation session” followed by 48 weekly group meetings.
A total of 117 people took part and of those, 38% saw their blood sugar levels return to normal within a year.
Another 15% had reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by reducing their blood glucose, while just 3% went on to develop the condition.
After a year, more than 50% of the participants had managed a greater than 7% reduction in their body weight, with the mean weight loss 10kg (22Ibs).
The authors of the report concluded that the move resulted in “considerable reductions in diabetes risk”, something they described as a “significant public health challenge”.
Lead author Carolyn Piper, public health manager at Bromley council, said: “It’s within our power to reverse the ever increasing tide of type 2 diabetes with the right education and support.”
The number of people in the UK diagnosed with the condition has increased from 1.4 to 2.9 million since 1996, and the problem is only predicted to get worse.
By 2025 it is estimated diabetes will affect around one in every seven adults, approximately five million people.
Emily Burns, interim head of research communications at Diabetes UK, welcomed the findings, but said more work was needed to “work out how to apply this in a real world setting”.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, echoed this, saying: “Today’s findings that GP referrals to weight management programmes appear to have prevented a third of patients from developing type 2 diabetes are both positive and encouraging, and are certainly something for commissioners to consider.
“However, organised weight management programmes won’t work for everyone.
“So GPs and our teams will continue to play a pivotal role in managing the vast amount of diabetes care in the community, advising patients about lifestyle changes that can improve their health, so we must ensure that general practice has the investment it needs, and the appropriate number of GPs and nursing colleagues, to do this properly.”