NHS has announced their flagship Diabetes Prevention Programme will be available during the Covid-19 pandemic – as people with diabetes are at a higher risk of serious complications from the virus.

People who are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes will be fast-tracked into the flagship Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention programme.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens recently announced the initiative for people at high risk of type 2 diabetes would be rolled out immediately following research that revealed those living with diabetes face a significantly higher risk of serious complications if they contract Covid-19.

The programme, which supports people to lose weight and adopt healthier habits including getting more exercise, is the first national project of its kind in the world and has already helped hundreds of thousands of people.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, said: “The evidence is now in: severe obesity can double your chance of dying from coronavirus (Covid-19). So, this pandemic is a call to arms to adopt medically-proven changes in what we eat and how we exercise. That’s why the NHS is going to accelerate its offer to help, including through wide uptake of our Diabetes Prevention Programme which helps people shift the pounds, avoid type 2 diabetes, and also slash the risk of severe Covid-19.”

A third of people who died in hospital from Covid-19 had diabetes (as previously reported here).

The public will now be able to use an online tool, to calculate their risk of developing the condition type 2 diabetes by answering a series of basic questions including age, weight and ethnicity.

If their score comes back as moderate or high, they will be able to refer themselves to a local Healthier You service for support remotely or online, without having to go through a healthcare professional.

Those who qualify will be able to choose how they complete the programme, either by joining group sessions by video link or telephone with an experienced coach or through digital support, which includes online peer support groups and in some areas, wearable tech.

A national campaign to target BAME (black and minority ethnic groups) communities will also launch in August to target those groups who are more at risk of type 2 diabetes at younger ages, and also more at risk of Covid-19.

Previously, people had to go to their GP or visit a healthcare professional and get a blood test before a referral, but the risk of Covid-19 has meant that less people have had face-to-face GP appointments and less people are accessing blood tests.

More than half a million people have been referred into the programme, and those completing the programme who were overweight or obese lost on average 3.6kg, greater than originally predicted.

The NHS Long Term Plan set out radical action to combat the rising obesity epidemic including by expanding the Healthier You programme so that 200,000 people a year could benefit.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, NHS National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, carried out the research which revealed that people are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 if they have type 2 diabetes.

Professor Valabhji said: “This is the first and leading programme for type 2 diabetes prevention anywhere in the world to cover the entire country, and with a track record of success the NHS can confidently expand access and help anyone who would benefit to get convenient, useful advice.”

The nine to 12-month programme is designed to stop or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes through a range of personalised lifestyle interventions.

These include:

  • education on lifestyle choices
  • advice on how to reduce weight through healthier eating
  • bespoke physical activity programmes.

Case study – Tariq Kahn, 35 from Birmingham

Tariq started the Healthier You programme in November 2019 after a blood test revealed that he was at high risk of type 2 diabetes. Tariq has lost almost a stone in weight through the programme, while attending sessions online.

Tariq said: “Life as a chef can be really hectic. I also had a sweet tooth which meant that I was eating unhealthily and often very late.

“The programme has enabled me to get control of my health by making small changes to my lifestyle. I’ve learnt so much about how my body works and how the choices I make can affect it. I’ve cut a lot of fried food and sweet treats from my diet as well as having smaller portions.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that the Healthier You classes are still continuing through video calls. The online classes have been great because they have helped to keep me motivated through this time – when it could have been tempting to go back to old ways with being at home a lot. I’ve been staying active using an exercise bike as well as walking and doing the exercises shared in the classes which are helping me to burn calories at home.”

Tariq has lost 6kg on the Healthier You programme so far and is determined to keep going and spread the word:

“I haven’t missed a class and I know that what I’ve learnt will stay with me forever. Losing 6kg is such a big achievement for me and I feel fresher and lighter. I’m sharing what I’ve learned with my family and my work colleagues to encourage them to be healthier too. I couldn’t recommend the programme enough!”

Find out more about the NHS Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme
Read more about type 2 diabetes
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