People at high risk of diabetes joining a Government weight loss programme during the pandemic had more pounds to lose than those who began it beforehand, an NHS study suggests.
Research shows those enrolling on the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP) during 2020 and the start of 2021, were on average around five pounds (2.4kg) heavier than those starting the programme during the previous three years, NHS England said.
It is estimated that a gain of one kilogram, or 2.2lb, can increase someone’s risk of the condition by around 8%.
The new study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, compared the weight of people at high risk of type 2 diabetes who started the programme between April 1 2020 and March 31 2021 with those who joined it between April 1 2017 and March 31 2020.
It found people under 40 were the most affected, with those who started the scheme during the pandemic an average of eight pounds heavier than those enrolling before this point.
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, NHS national clinical director for diabetes and obesity who produced the findings, 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.”
He said an increase in weight means an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is associated with many common types of cancer, blindness, amputations as well as heart attacks and strokes.
He added: “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.”
NHS England said 405,000 people have been helped by the programme since it was established in 2016, and latest NHS data shows those completing it typically achieve an average weight loss of 7.3lb (3.3kg), and 7.9lb (3.6kg) for those who are overweight or obese, significantly reducing their risk of type 2 diabetes.
The DPP 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.
The NHS fast-tracked access to the DPP after research found that people are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 if they have the condition.
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.”