Extra weight gained as people lived through the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns means they are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a new UK study reported on Saturday.
The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, shows that people aged under 40 enrolling on the National Health Service (NHS) Diabetes Prevention Programme have seen the greatest differences in weight, and are an average of eight pounds heavier than those enrolling before.
The NHS estimates that weight gain of one kg, or 2.2 pounds, can increase someone's risk of diabetes by around 8 per cent.
“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,” said Dr Jonathan Valabhji, NHS national clinical director for diabetes and obesity.
“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,” he said.
The study compared the weight of people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes starting the NHS's Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP) during COVID-19 to that of participants starting the programme over the three years prior to the pandemic.
It found that people seeking the NHS help to lose weight during the pandemic are on an average five pounds heavier than those starting the programme during the previous three years.
The NHS is therefore urging people who fear they may be at risk of type 2 diabetes to come forward for help. It 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.
“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 per cent of someone's risk of developing the condition,” said Dan Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK.
“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,” he said.
People can check their risk online and self-refer themselves for weight loss support through the world leading programme. As well as being referred for support by their general practitioners, 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.
Those who qualify will be able to choose how they complete the programme, either by joining group sessions by a video link or telephone with an experienced coach or through digital support, which includes online peer support groups, and in some areas, wearable tech.
The NHS has also been piloting low calorie diets for those recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes to put the condition into remission.
According to official data, more than 405,000 people have been helped by the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme since it was first established in 2016 and have been provided with bespoke advice on healthy eating, physical exercise and weight management.
The latest NHS data shows 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.