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Weight Watchers helped stave off type 2 diabetes

Lifestyle changes and weight loss achieved in programme led to considerable reductions in risk

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

More than a third of people with hyperglycaemia whose GP referred them to a Weight Watchers diabetes prevention programme (DPP) returned to normoglycaemia within a year, research has shown. The small study*, conducted in UK general practice and published online today in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, also found that more than half of the referred patients achieved a greater than a 7% reduction in body weight at 6 and 12 months, reducing their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from the department of public health in the London Borough of Bromley, and colleagues, identified patients from 14 general practices, who had non-diabetic hyperglycaemia – fasting plasma glucose ≥5.5 to ≤6.9mmol/l and/or glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) ≥42 to 47mmol/mol (6.0%–6.4%), and a body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2. They referred 166 patients (of whom three-quarters were women) to a DPP, which comprised an intensive lifestyle intervention that included a 90-minute activation session followed by the offer of 48 weekly Weight Watchers community group meetings. The programme focused on improving diet quality, reducing portion size, increasing physical activity levels, as well as boosting confidence in the ability to change and a commitment to the process.

Of the 149 patients eligible for the programme, 117 (79%) attended an activation session and 115 (77%) started the weekly sessions. They had further blood tests in their general practice at 6 and 12 months, and Weight Watchers recorded changes in weight.

After 12 months, using intention-to-treat analysis, the DPP resulted in a mean reduction in HbA1c of 2.84mmol/mol; 38% of patients returned to normoglycemia and 3% developed type 2 diabetes at 12 months; there was a mean weight reduction in BMI of 3.2kg/m2 at 12 months, and the average weight loss amounted to 10kg.The study authors acknowledge its limitations, for example that not all people with hyperglycaemia progress to diabetes, and their referral numbers were low. But they said their findings indicate that the DPP could potentially have considerable impact. They concluded: “A UK primary care referral route partnered with this commercial weight management provider can deliver an effective diabetes prevention programme. The lifestyle changes and weight loss achieved in the intervention translated into considerable reductions in diabetes risk, with an immediate and significant public health impact.”

Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Council, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, commented: “[These findings] 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.”


* Piper C, Marossy A, Griffiths Z, et al. Evaluation of a type 2 diabetes prevention program using a commercial weight management provider for non-diabetic hyperglycemic patients referred by primary care in the UK. BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2017;5:e000418. doi:10.1136/bmjdrc-2017-000418.

Note: The London Borough of Bromley funded the diabetes prevention programme and evaluation; Weight Watchers paid for publication of the research.

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