Senior Clinical Advisor, Diabetes UK
With research suggesting 7% weight loss is enough for dramatic reductions in risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes, lifestyle changes may not have to be too extreme.
Earlier this year, a report from Diabetes UK indicated that the total number of diabetes diagnosis has more than doubled over the last 20 years. In the UK, 90% of diabetes cases are Type 2.
With 12.3 million people at an increased risk of the disease1, Libby Dowling, Senior Clinical Advisor at Diabetes UK, believes it is the fastest growing health crisis of our time. She expressed her concern at the proliferation of these numbers.
What’s alarming is that around 3/5 cases of all Type 2 diabetes diagnoses could be prevented or delayed with the right interventions.
“Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are serious conditions. Both can lead to devastating health complications such as amputation, blindness and kidney disease if people don’t receive a timely diagnosis and get the support and education they need to manage the condition correctly,” she says.
Research shows family history, age and ethnic background are all risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, but being overweight or obese is the leading cause for developing the condition. “What’s alarming is that around three in five cases of all Type 2 diabetes diagnoses could be prevented or delayed with the right interventions” says Dowling.
“To reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, we recommend living an active lifestyle, eating a healthy and balanced diet that is low in fat, salt and sugar and keeping an eye on your portion sizes.”
Improve health outcomes with modest weight loss
Research from the British Medical Journal shows lifestyle interventions that focus on diet, physical activity and losing weight can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 50%2. Crucially, these lifestyle changes do not have to be extreme in order to reduce your risk.
“It’s important to understand that, even if you are one of those 12.3 million people in the high-risk category for Type 2 diabetes, you don’t have to achieve the perfect BMI,” says Zoe Griffiths, Registered Dietitian and Head of Public Health at Weight Watchers.
“Key studies on Type 2 diabetes prevention from Europe, China and the US have shown that an intensive lifestyle programme, that helps people to lose seven per cent of their body weight, achieves dramatic reductions in risks of Type 2 diabetes,” says Griffiths.
“To put that in perspective, seven per cent weight loss in a 14-stone person means just 14 pounds. We are talking relatively modest amounts of weight loss, which can have a major impact on your health,” says Griffiths.
How to make lifestyle changes
As research shows, modest weight loss can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, improve health and wellbeing for high-risk categories, but it is crucial that people understand how to go about making positive changes. For Griffiths, the key to reducing your risk of Type 2 diabetes lies in the incremental changes you make to what you eat and your activity, building healthier habits that stick.
“It is key to find a proven and liveable programme that fits with your life, where you can tap into support whenever you need it,”says Griffiths. Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Society3 found that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to adopting a healthier pattern of eating; what worked was finding a programme that people could stick with for the long term.
Even making simple changes to what you eat, still has positive effects on your health regardless of weight. “Even if you stay the same weight but change the profile of your diet – i.e. eating more fruit and vegetables, increasing the amount of fibre and reducing saturated fats – you will make a positive impact on reducing your risk of Type 2 diabetes,” says Griffiths.
Similar positive health benefits occur with improving the amount of activity you do every week. Current recommendations suggest that 150 minutes of moderate activity every week can greatly reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes..
“If you add all these incremental changes together, it is fantastic for your health. It’s much more positive to set realistic goals, and the evidence demonstrates that modest changes to your lifestyle reaps big impacts,” says Griffiths.