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Coronavirus risk leads to rapid expansion of proven NHS diabetes prevention programme

12:00am | & Health

People at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes will be fast-tracked into the flagship ‘Healthier You’ NHS Diabetes Prevention programme.

Rapid access to the programme is being rolled out from this week following research that shows those living with diabetes face a significantly higher risk of dying if they contract coronavirus. The programme – which supports people to lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles – is the first national initiative of its kind and has already helped hundreds of thousands of people.

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “The evidence is now in: severe obesity can double your chance of dying from coronavirus. 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 coronavirus.”

A third of people who died in hospital from coronavirus had diabetes. From this week the public can use an online tool, hosted by Diabetes UK, to calculate their risk of developing 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 now 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 can to choose how they complete the programme They can either:

  • join group sessions led by an experienced coach by video link or on the telephone
  • or access digital support, including online peer support groups and, in some areas, wearable tech.

A national campaign will also launch in August targeting Black and South Asian people, who are more at risk of Type 2 diabetes at younger ages and also more at risk of coronavirus. Previously, people had to go to their GP or healthcare professional for a blood test before a referral, but the risk of coronavirus has meant fewer people have had face-to-face GP appointments or blood tests.

More than half-a-million people have already been referred into the Healthier You programme and those completing it who were overweight or obese lost on average 3.6kg (almost 8lbs), which is more than originally predicted.

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

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

Tariq Khan, a 35-year-old chef from Birmingham, started the Healthier You programme last November after a blood test revealed he was at high risk of Type 2 diabetes. He has now lost almost a stone through attending sessions online and said: “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.

“The online classes have helped 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.

“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!”

You can access the Diabetes UK ‘Know Your Risk’ tool by clicking here.

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