Published on 14 July 2017

More than two thirds of people with learning disabilities could be at risk of developing the condition.

Researchers have called on the need for “urgent” action to be taken in a bid to help people with learning disabilities from developing type 2 diabetes.

The STOP Diabetes study by researchers at Leicester Diabetes Centre of 930 adults from across the county with learning disabilities found that more than two-thirds (68%), were overweight or obese, putting them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

The research team wanted to find out whether people with learning disabilities could be at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and develop a lifestyle programme to help people with learning disabilities stay healthy.

Although the findings showed low numbers of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes among the people screened for the study, the research did identify other worrying issues.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, who led the STOP Diabetes study, said: “The information we received from the participants (and their carers) is that only 30% of them are eating the recommended five or more daily portions of fruit, vegetables or salad.

“We also discovered a distinct lack of exercise being carried out with around half of the study participants spending most of the day, or even all of it, sitting down. We already know that being sedentary hugely increases a person’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. These findings have only emphasised the urgent need for targeted lifestyle prevention strategies, which are specifically tailored for the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Obesity and physical inactivity are both major risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and are often the main focus of diabetes prevention programmes.

Dr Alison Dunkley, a University of Leicester researcher who also worked on the study, said: “People with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from research involvement, despite experiencing significant health inequalities.

“The STOP Diabetes research study is the first large diabetes screening study involving people with intellectual disabilities in the UK and, to our knowledge, possibly globally. Our multi-disciplinary team of researchers and learning disability healthcare professionals worked closely with service users (and carers) to involve them in the study.”

NHS England estimates that there are currently 5 million people in England at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If these numbers continue, one in three people will be obese by 2034 and one in 10 will develop type 2 diabetes. However, many cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable if healthy lifestyle changes are made.

The Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (NHS DPP) began in Leicestershire last year and uses a specially developed “at risk” calculator which was developed by LDC to determine whether someone needs to be referred onto the initiative. However, there is no clear guidance within the programme on how to target people with learning disabilities.

Find out more about the STOP Diabetes study
Find out more about type 2 diabetes here
Read the DRWF leaflets A healthy diet and diabetes and Exercise and diabetes here

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