People seeking NHS weight loss help heavier than those before COVID new study finds

People seeking NHS help to lose weight during the pandemic are on average five pounds heavier than those starting the programme during the previous three years, new NHS research has revealed.

Extra weight, gained as people lived through the COVID pandemic, means people are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, showed that people aged under 40 enrolling on the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme have seen the greatest differences in weight and are an average of eight pounds heavier than those enrolling before.

It is estimated that weight gain of one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, can increase someone’s risk of diabetes by around 8%.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, NHS national clinical director for diabetes and obesity who produced the findings, said that the study showed why people should come forward for help.

More than 405,000 have been helped by the Programme since it was first established in 2016 and have been provided with bespoke advice on healthy eating, physical exercise and weight management. Latest NHS data show that people completing the programme typically achieve an average weight loss of 3.3 kilograms, and 3.6 kilograms for those who are overweight or obese, reducing their risk of Type 2 diabetes significantly.

The NHS has fast-tracked access to the Programme after research found that people are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 if they have Type 2 Diabetes.

People can easily check their risk online and self-refer themselves for weight loss support through the world leading programme.

NHS national clinical director for diabetes and obesity Jonathan Valabhji, said: “The pandemic has changed every part of our lives and taken a toll on mind and body, with thousands of people paying a heavy price, and many gaining weight during lockdown. The increase in weight also means an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes – which is associated with many of the common types of cancer, blindness, amputations as well as heart attacks and strokes.

“As we return to normal life, there has never been a better time to make small changes to improve our health – our NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme can help people do just that. It is quick and easy to check your risk so if you are worried, please do check your risk today. The NHS is here to help you.”

The NHS Long Term Plan set out a range of radical action for the prevention, treatment and care of diabetes, including expanding the world-leading Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Programme, so that 200,000 people a year could benefit, and piloting low calorie diets for those recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes to put the condition into remission.

As well as being referred for support by their GP practice, people can now self-refer for support by using an online tool, hosted by Diabetes UK, to calculate their risk of developing Type 2 by answering a series of questions about risk factors including age, weight and ethnicity.

If their score comes back as moderate or high, they will now be able to refer themselves to the local 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.

Dan Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said: “Type 2 diabetes is a complex condition with multiple risk factors that include age, family history and ethnicity. Living with obesity is the single greatest risk factor, and accounts for 80-85% of someone’s risk of developing the condition.

“This study suggests that during the pandemic there may have been an increase in the body weight of people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes. This is concerning as it could lead to rates of the condition rising more steeply down the line. The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme plays a pivotal role in supporting those at risk and, as many people have found it harder to manage their weight during the pandemic, it has never been more vital.”

The study compared the weight of people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes starting the NHS’s Diabetes Prevention Programme during COVID-19, to that of participants starting the programme over the three years prior to the pandemic. It found that:

  • The average weight difference between the two time periods (1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020; and 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021) was 2.4kg higher in those attending during the pandemic
  • This increase in average body weight of those at high risk is likely to lead to an increase in the rates of people developing Type 2 diabetes

Projections show that the growing number of people with diabetes could result in nearly 39,000 extra people suffering a heart attack in 2035, and over 50,000 experiencing a stroke.

The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme lasts between nine and 12 months and is designed to stop or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes through advice and support on healthier eating, weight management and physical exercise.

Since COVID-19 started, the NHS has expanded its offer of help to people with diabetes by creating online tools to help them manage their condition safely, during the outbreak.