Tagged: diabetes prevention

Bridging the gap between medical science and policy to reduce the biggest 21st century healthcare burden

In November 2018 the Mayor on London Sadiq Khan, announced that junk food adverts will be banned on all London transport from February 2019 in an attempt to reduce the “ticking time bomb” of childhood obesity in the city.

London has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe with some 40% of 10 to 11-year olds either overweight or obese, with children from more deprived areas disproportionately affected. Obesity is a common and costly source of type-2 diabetes (T2DM), which is much more aggressive in youngsters and complications of the condition - blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure - can present earlier. What is happening in London and the UK is replicated in varying degrees in cities and nations throughout the world: there is a global epidemic of obesity and T2DM, which together is often referred to as ‘diabesity’.
The “good” news is that at the same time Khan announced the advertising ban, the UK’s national news outlets were reporting the product of four decades of scientific research, which suggested that T2DM could be reversed by a liquid diet of 800-calories a day for three months.
Although this offers hope for millions of people, an unresolved challenge is whether this simple and cheap therapy will be implemented effectively to significantly dent the burden of diabesity, which arguably is the biggest healthcare challenge of the 21st century.
In this Commentary

We describe some of the research behind the news reports about the therapy to reverse T2DM. Although the scientists’ innovative solution of a low-calorie liquid diet has been adopted enthusiastically by some healthcare providers and organizations specifically set up to dent the burden of diabesity, it is questionable whether the gap between science and policy can be bridged. This, we suggest, is because the prevalence of diabesity is growing at a significantly faster rate than the effect of programs to prevent and reduce the condition.

Obesity and T2DM

Obesity, which is a significant risk of T2DM, is a complex, multifaced condition, with genetic, behavioural, socioeconomic and environmental origins. Diet and sedentary lifestyles may affect energy balance through complex hormonal and neurological pathways that influence satiety. Also, urbanization, the food environment and the marketing of processed foods are contributory factors to becoming overweight and obese. Notwithstanding, the main driver of weight gain is energy intake exceeding energy expenditure.
T2DM is a chronic, progressive metabolic disease, which until recently has been perceived as incurable. Although genetic predisposition partly determines the condition’s onset, being overweight and obese are significant risk factors. Generally accepted clinical guidelines to treat the condition is to reduce glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) - blood sugar (glucose) - levels. The HbA1c test assesses your average level of blood sugar over the past two to three months. The normal range for HbA1c is 4% to 5.9%. In well-controlled diabetic patients HbA1c levels are less than 6.5% or 48mmol/moll. High levels of HbA1c mean that you are more likely to develop diabetes complications, such as serious problems with your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. T2DM is treated primarily with drugs and generic lifestyle advice, but many patients still develop vascular complications and life expectancy remains up to six years shorter than in people without diabetes. 


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OEDC) 2017 Health at a Glance Report warned that obesity in the UK has increased by 92% in the past two decades. Two-thirds of the UK’s adult population are overweight and 27% have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above, which is the official definition of obesity. In 2017 there were 0.6m obesity-related hospital admissions in the UK, an 18% increase on the previous year. Each year, obesity cost NHS England in excess of US$10bn in treatment alone.
A 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) report suggests that obesity globally has almost tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9bn adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650m were obese. According to a 2018 WHO report on childhood obesity 41m children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016 and over 340m children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese.
Bad diets
Diets in the UK, and in most wealthy advanced industrial economies, tend to have insufficient fruit and vegetables, fibre and oily fish and too much added sugar, salt and saturated fat. Rising consumption of processed food and sugary drinks are significant contributors to the global obesity epidemic. A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and upwards of 240 calories. A 64-ounce cola drink could have up to 700 calories. People who consume such drinks do not feel as full as if they had eaten the same number of calories from solid food and therefore do not compensate by eating less. While healthy diets are challenging for most populations, low income levels and poor education are associated with less healthy diets.

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T2DM brief epidemiology

Almost 4.6m people in the UK and 30m Americans are living with diabetes:  90% of whom have T2DM. It is estimated that 12.3m people in the UK and some 70m in the US are considered pre-diabetic, which is when you have high blood glucose levels, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. The first WHO Global report on diabetes published in 2016 suggests that 422m adults (1 in 11) worldwide are living with the condition, which has quadrupled over the past three decades. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that this figure will rise to 642m by 2040.  A further challenge is the undiagnosed. A December 2017 paper in Nature Reviews: Endocrinology suggests 46% of all cases of diabetes globally are undiagnosed and therefore at enhanced risk of complications. Until complications develop, most T2DM patients are managed within primary care, which constitutes a significant part of general practice activity. International data suggest that medical costs for people with diabetes are two to threefold greater than the average for people without diabetes.
T2DM treated but not cured

The most common therapy for T2DM patients who are overweight is metformin, which is usually prescribed when diet and exercise alone have not been enough to control your blood glucose levels. Metformin reduces the amount of sugar your liver releases into your blood and also makes your body respond better to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that allows your body to use sugar from carbohydrates in food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. The hormone helps to keep your blood sugar levels from getting too high (hyperglycaemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia). Metformin does not cure T2DM and does not get rid of your glucose, but simply transfers your excess sugar from your blood to your liver. When your liver rejects your excess sugar, the medicine passes the glucose onto other organs: kidneys, nerves, eyes and heart. Much of your excess sugar gets turned into fat and hence you become overweight or obese. T2DM has long been understood to progress despite glucose-lowering therapy, with 50% of patients requiring insulin therapy within 10 years. This seemingly inexorable deterioration in control has been interpreted to mean that T2DM is treatable but not curable. Research briefly described in this Commentary suggests that T2DM can be beaten into ‘remission’, but it requires losing a lot of weight and keeping it off.
Reversing T2DM

Over the past decade a series of studies, led by Roy Taylor, Professor of Medicine and Metabolism at the University of Newcastle, England and colleagues from Glasgow University have explored the notion that losing weight could be the solution for controlling T2DM and lowering the risk of debilitating and costly complications.
Findings of a study in the December 2017 edition of the  Lancet, suggested that nearly 50% of people living with T2DM who had participated in a low-calorie liquid diet of about 800 calories a day for three to five months had lost weight and had reverted to a non-T2DM state. The study was comprised of 298 adults between 20 and 65 who had been diagnosed with T2DM within the past six years drawn from 49 primary care practices in Scotland and Tyneside in England. Half of the practices put their patients on the low-calorie diet, while the rest were in a control group and received the standard of care of anti-diabetic medicines to manage their blood glucose levels. About 46% of 149 individuals with T2DM who followed a weight loss regimen achieved ‘remission’, which the study defined as a HbA1c of less than 6.5% after one year. Only 4% of the control group managed to achieve ‘remission’. ‘Remission’ rather than ‘cure’ was used to describe the reversal of T2DM because if patients put weight back on, they may become diabetic again. Results improved according to the amount of weight lost: 86% of those who lost more than 33 pounds attained remission, while 57% of those who lost 22 to 33 pounds reached that goal.
Another paper by Taylor and his colleagues published in the October 2018 edition of Cell Metabolism, examined reasons why substantial weight loss - (15kg) in some patients - produces T2DM remission in which all signs and symptoms of the condition disappear, while in other patients it does not. Using detailed metabolic tests and specially developed MRI scans, Taylor observed that fat levels in the blood, pancreas and liver were abnormally high in people with T2DM. But after following an intensive weight loss regimen, all participants in the study were able to lower their fat levels. As fat decreased inside the liver and the pancreas, some participants also experienced improved functioning of their pancreatic beta cells, which store and release insulin, controls the level of sugar in their blood and facilitates glucose to pass into their cells as a source of energy. The likelihood of regaining normal glucose control depends on the ability of the beta cells to recover. But, losing less than 1gm of fat from your pancreas through diet can re-start your normal production of insulin and thereby reverse T2DM.
“The good news for people with T2DM is that our work shows that you are likely to be able to reverse T2DM by moving that all important tiny amount of fat out of your pancreas. At present, this can only be done through substantial weight loss,” says Taylor.

While a significant proportion of participants in Taylor’s study responded to the weight loss program and achieved T2DM remission, others did not. To better understand this, researchers focused on 29 participants who achieved remission after dieting and 16 who dieted but continued to have T2DM. Taylor and his colleagues observed that people who were unable to restart normal insulin production had lived with T2DM for a longer time than those that could. Individuals who had lived with T2DM for an average of 3.8 years could not correct their condition through weight loss, while those who had the condition for an average of 2.7 years were able to regain normal blood sugar control.

“Many [patients] have described to me how embarking on the low-calorie diet has been the only option to prevent what they thought - or had been told - was an inevitable decline into further medication and further ill health because of their diabetes. By studying the underlying mechanisms, we have been able to demonstrate the simplicity of T2DM and show that it is a potentially reversible condition. but commencing successful major weight loss should be started as early as possible,” says Taylor.
Click on Newcastle University to find out more information about reversing T2DM by weight loss.
Bridging the gap between science and policy

Taylor and his colleagues describe their research findings as “very exciting” because “they could revolutionise the way T2DM is treated”, but caution that a series of management issues will need to be overcome before their therapy becomes common practice. This includes, (i) familiarizing primary care doctors and T2DM patients with the treatment regimen, (ii) establishing a generally accepted standard for what actually constitutes “remission”. Taylor and colleagues recommend “remission” to be when a patient has not taken diabetes medicines for at least two months and then has two consecutive HbA1c levels, taken two months apart, which are less than 6.5%. Researchers also recommend that data on T2DM reversal rates should be routinely collected, stored, analysed and reported.

Notwithstanding, the ‘elephant in the room’ is the vast extent of diabesity, the eye-watering rate at which it is growing and the general ineffectiveness of policy makers and prevent programs to dent the burden. Research findings presented at the 2018 European Congress on Obesity in Vienna emphasize the magnitude of the problem. If current trends continue, almost a quarter (22%) of the world’s population will be obese by 2045 (up from 14% in 2017), and 12% will have T2DM (up from 9% in 2017). Findings also suggest that in order to prevent the prevalence of T2DM from going above 10% by 2045, global obesity levels must be reduced by 25%. The problem is no less grave at the national level. For example, in the UK, if current trends continue obesity will rise from 32% today to 48% in 2045, while diabetes levels will rise from 10.2% to 12.6%, a 28% rise. This is unsustainable. Here’s the challenge for policy makers.

To stabilise UK diabetes rates over the next 25 years at 10%, which is high and extremely costly, obesity prevalence must fall from 32% to 24%. Similarly, in the US, if current trends continue over the next 25 years, then to keep diabetes rates stable over the same period, obesity in the US would have to be reduced by 10%: from 38% today to 28%.

Taylor and his colleagues have delivered a simple and cheap solution to one of the biggest burdens of the 21st century. But unless there is effective strategy to implement this solution the four decades of research undertaken by Taylor and his colleagues will be wasted. Previous Commentaries have described the vast and crippling burden of diabesity and the failure of well-funded programs to make any significant dent in this vast and escalating burden, which is out of control. We have suggested, this is partly because, at the operational level, programs have tended to be predicated upon inappropriate, old fashioned, 20th century organizational methods and technology and focused on “activities” rather than “outcomes”. At a policy level, government agencies have systematically failed to slow the rise of processed food becoming the “new tobacco.  Most UK endeavours to reduce the burden of diabesity are like putting up an umbrella to fend off a tsunami. This must change if we are to harness and effectively deploy the research findings of Professor Taylor et al.
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  • Diabetes UK’s (DUK) 2016 State of the Nation Report calls for diabetes education to be improved
  • Effective education can reduce the vast and escalating burden of diabetes and is significantly cheaper than treatment
  • Traditional diabetes education is failing miserably
  • DUK’s education only reaches a small percentage of people with diabetes
  • Self-management is the only realistic way forward to better diabetes management, but will require a transformation of the current patient-educator relationship
  • Could DUK play a leading role in this transformation?
Improving diabetes education to enhance patient outcomes
For the past decade at least, the charity Diabetes UK (DUK) has been “calling for governments to do more” to improve diabetes care in order to stem the vast and escalating burden of the condition. Currently, 4m people or 6% of the population are living with diabetes in the UK, and this is projected to rise to 5m by 2025. It is estimated that around 10% of the NHS yearly budget is contributed to the treatment of diabetes; which equates to £10.3bn a year.

The prevalence of type-2 diabetes (T2DM) in particular has been increasing rapidly, and is now one of the world’s most common long-term health conditions. Life expectancy on average is reduced by up to 10 years for people with T2DM. Experts say effective education can prevent the onset of T2DM, help with its management once diagnosed, and slow the onset of complications, such as heart failure, blindness, kidney disease and lower limp amputations. The 2016 DUK State of the Nation report called for diabetes education to be improved.

Traditional diabetes education is failing

In the video below Richard Lane, Ambassador and Immediate Past President of DUK, describes the significant improvements in diabetes education since he was first diagnosed in the 1970s, and briefly describes DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating), one of the official UK adult courses for managing type-1 diabetes. Also, a patient with type-1 describes how helpful she found some voluntary diabetes educational courses.

Notwithstanding individual successes, traditional diabetes education programs are failing to reach a sufficient number of people to be effective in reducing the overall burden of the condition. Only 2% of people diagnosed with type-1 diabetes and 6% with T2DM attend official diabetes educational courses. Each year there are 24,000 early deaths from diabetes-related complications, and also 7,000 avoidable amputations. DUK wants 50% of people living with diabetes to receive education over the next five years.
DUK's education and support

DUK spends about 50% of the money it raises annually on diabetes education. Of the £37m it raised in 2015 it spent £8.0m on its “Better Care Everywhere” program that works with healthcare institutions, “to make sure people had access to the 15 healthcare essentials”; £7.0m on its “Not Alone with Diabetes” program, which is its helpline; £1.5m “Reducing the Risk of Diabetes”, which is DUK’s participation in the National Diabetes Prevention Program; and £8.2m, “Growing the Impact of DUK’s Work”, which develops “networks of healthcare professionals,” to “work with local community groups and volunteers all over the country”: a total of £24.7m. 

Here we describe these expenditures as education and support services. 
Despite over £20m worth of diabetes educational and support services delivered by DUK each year, and the £10.3bn spent by the NHS on diabetes care and education, diabetes in the UK remains the largest and fastest growing health challenge of our time. “Diabetes is a very serious and complex health condition that requires constant self-management,” says Chris Askew, DUK’s CEO. 
A fundamental transformation is required

Increasing self-management is relevant, especially as resources for diabetes are shrinking as the prevalence of the condition is rapidly increasing, particularly among children. However, achieving effective self-management requires a fundamental transformation of the way diabetes education is delivered. 

It is projected that 66% of people in the UK will have smartphones by 2017. It seems reasonable to assume therefore that the majority of people  living with diabetes will have smartphones by 2017. People regularly use their smartphones for 24-hour banking, education, entertainment, shopping, and dating. Diabetes education has failed to effectively leverage this vast and rapidly growing free infrastructure and peoples’ changed lifestyles to introduce effective educational support systems to enhance the quality of diabetes care, increase efficiency, and improve patient outcomes. Today, mobile technology is part of everyday life and people expect to be connected with their relevant service providers 24-7, 365 days of the year from anywhere. 

Here is just one example of a simple evidence-based  dashboard designed to help re-engineer primary care management of diabetes by (i) increasing the connectivity between health professionals and patients, (ii) enhancing patient knowledge of diabetes, (iii) encouraging people to self-manage their condition, (iv) increasing the efficiency of GP clinics, and in the medium to longer term, (I) keep people out of A&E, and (ii) slow the onset of complications. 

Click on the image to see a demonstration of the dashboard

At very little cost, such a system could be rolled-out nationally through Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), integrated into GP clinics, and provide the basis of a national platform for diabetes education. Once patients and health professionals become engaged and familiar with the initial service offering, CCGs can bolt on additional services to further help people ward-off or manage their diabetes. This follows the model of digital champions, which succeed by using a core service to engage, and build a user base, and then add more services, so continuously increasing their users’ familiarity with their services. Engaging patients and health professionals any other way tends to fail.

The  diabetes education dashboard ensures that people either at risk of diabetes or living with diabetes will always be part of an educator-patient network, which should increase the variety; velocity, volume and value of educational healthcare information patients receive.

The escalating incidence of diabetes is not new

Data reported by DUK in 2015 revealed that over the past decade the number of people living with diabetes increased by 60%, and the charity’s leaders claimed that the public health situation in the UK with regard to diabetes is being allowed “to spiral out of control”. “Diabetes already costs the NHS nearly £10bn a year, and 80% of this is spent on managing avoidable complications,” said Barbara Young, then the CEO of DUK. Such findings, while shocking, are not new. 

The vast and escalating burden of diabetes

Tackling diabetes is important for the future of the NHS as there are over 4m people living with diabetes in the UK at present. This represents 6% of the UK population, or 1 in every 16 people. About 90% of the cases have T2DM. 90% of people with T2DM are overweight. Lifestyle changes and weight loss can help to prevent T2DM from ever occurring. Obesity is 40% more common among people living in deprived areas. 11.9m people in the UK are currently at risk of developing T2DM, but more than half could delay or even prevent a diagnosis by improved diets and lifestyles. This requires effective education that engages people and encourage them towards healthier lifestyles. About 10% of the cases are Type-1, which usually develops in childhood, and is often inherited. The NHS spends £10.3bn every year on treating diabetes, which equates to 10% of its entire budget. 80% of this is spent on diabetes medication. The annual indirect costs, such as productivity loss and informal care, are estimated to be £13bn. Effective education is cheaper than treatment.

The government will not spend more on diabetes

DUK’s repeated calls for the government to do more for diabetes care have been unsuccessful. This is largely because the NHS is struggling to cope with a surge in demand for care while suffering a major budget squeeze. In 2016, the government took back control of overspending semi-autonomous hospitals as part of its crackdown to tackle a NHS deficit of £2.45bn; the biggest overspend in its history.
DUK is a significant provider of diabetes education

To look at some aspects of DUK’s educational achievements we have taken a selection of extracts from its 2015 Annual Report. Against each extract is a short comment.

DUK:11,000 people learnt how to better understand and manage their condition through our Type 2 online education course.” 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.3% of the people in England diagnosed with T2DM.
DUK:Our care line supported 22,361 people who needed encouragement, information or someone to talk to”. 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.6% of people in England living with diabetes.
DUK:5.9m visits to the Diabetes UK website in 2015 – almost 10 per cent more than the year before – giving people the opportunity to learn more about the condition, what we do and how to get involved.”               
COMMENT: The key question here is the quality of the visit to the DUK website. Questions include inter alia: What is the average ‘dwell time’ for each visitor to DUK’s website? How many repeat visits does the website receive? What is the average number of pages viewed by visitors to DUK’S website? What are the most popular website pages viewed? What are the least popular website pages? How many visitors to the website come from the UK? What percentage of the people who visit the website “get involved”? How long do they stay involved? What percentage of the website’s visitors register with the site?
DUK:15,196 people found out their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes at one of our Roadshows – and can now take steps to avoid it.” 
COMMENT: This represents about 0.1% of the people in the UK at risk of T2DM.
DUK: “Educated more than 17,000 healthcare professionals to better work with and support those living with diabetes.”
COMMENT: Is this cost-effective? Would not online engagement be more appropriate?
DUK:11,000 people registered to educate themselves about managing their Type 2 diabetes via our online course Type 2 Diabetes and Me.”
COMMENT: This represents about 0.3% of people in England diagnosed with T2DM.
DUK:11.9 million people in the UK are currently at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, but more than half of those people could delay or even prevent a diagnosis . . . In 2015 we worked with NHS England and Public Health England to develop the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. This partnership has the potential to help people in England who are at high risk delay – in some cases even prevent – Type 2 diabetes, and is being watched by the rest of the UK with interest.
COMMENT: In 2015 the UK government's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) observed that the national prevention initiative, which costs over £35m each year, lacked urgency, and recommended that it should, “develop a better and more flexible range of education support for diabetes patients.
A HealthPad Commentary reviewed the national prevention program, described an innovative and successful US diabetes prevention initiative, and concluded that because the UK program employed 19th century technologies to address a 21st century epidemic it would likely fail. The Commentary further argued that preventing T2DM entails winning the battle against obesity, reducing poverty, and changing peoples’ diets and lifestyles. To do this, education programs need to employ modern behavior techniques to engage people and coax them to change their behaviour.

A further HealthPad Commentary, described the growing frustration of the government’s PAC and the National Audit Office (NAO) with the country’s diabetes establishment.
DUK: Our ‘Know Your Risk’ volunteers helped over 15,000 people find out their risk of Type 2 diabetes at one of our events, while our online tool was used over 240,000 times.”
COMMENT: This represents 0.47% and between 6 to 7.5% respectively of people living with T2DM in England.
DUK should report costs and outcomes not costs and the distribution of services

Two points about DUK’s statements of its educational achievements:
  1. The majority of the charity’s education and support services only appear to reach a small percentage of the total number of people either at risk of T2DM or those living with diabetes. We have drawn attention to the fact that a large percentage of people with T2DM are over weight and 40% of obese people reside in deprived areas of the UK. To be effective diabetes education must have the Heineken effect.
  2. For the past decade at least, the DUK has tended to report the costs and distribution of its education and support services. More relevant would be for the charity to report costs and the effects its services have had on reducing the burden of diabetes, slowing complications, improving efficiencies, and enhancing patient outcomes.
Diabetes education providers should adopt school performance measures

For years the UK’s state education service has been using pupil outcome measures to rate the performance of its schools. Why is this not the case for diabetes education? Can you imagine if year-after-year millions of children in England were failing their public examinations, and year-after-year education officers only reported the costs and distribution of their services?  Can you imagine if the public education services only taught a very small percentage of the children eligible for education and there was no information about children’s performance in examinations?
Would people accept an education report that said, “This year Worthy schools spent £20m on physics teaching, which only reached 0.3% of pupils who would benefit from the subject, and we have no idea what percentage of those that were taught either took or passed the recommended physics exams”?
Technologies facilitate and transform diabetes education

With failing education programs people with diabetes are being driven to self-manage their condition with inadequate support. Inexpensive and ubiquitous technologies facilitate this, and increasingly people are demanding tools that track weight, blood pressure, daily exercise and diet. From apps to wearables, healthcare technology lets people feel in control of their health, while also providing health professionals with more patient data than ever before. 
With more than 100,000 health apps, rapid growth in wearables, and 75% of the UK population now owning a smartphone, digital technology is well positioned to significantly improve diabetes education and management. Such technologies while ubiquitous, are ineffective if only used as an adjunct to traditional education. Traditional diabetes education programs have failed to introduce widespread digital support strategies, which significantly enhance the quality of care, increase efficiencies, and improve patient outcomes for the majority of people living with diabetes.
In the first video below Richard Lane describes how digital technology is helping people self-manage their diabetes. In the second, Lane and a patient diagnosed with T2DM suggest that the biggest challenge for diabetes care is actually engaging people who are either at risk of the condition or living with diabetes. Only once people are engaged do you stand a chance to raise their awareness of the disease, and encourage them to change their diets and lifestyles in order to slow the progression of the condition and even prevent it.
How can mHealth help in the management of diabetes?
What are the biggest challenges of diabetes care?
Changing the patient-educator relationship
Self-management of diabetes should not be viewed simply as developing a website and providing a portfolio of techniques and tools to help people living with diabetes choose healthy behaviours. A necessary pre-requisite for effective education to reduce the burden of diabetes is the actual engagement of people who are either at risk of T2DM or living with diabetes. (Where are the national diabetes registers?). Once engaged education should inform and empower people, and provide them with access to continuous self-management support. This is substantially different to the way traditional diabetes education is delivered as it transforms the patient–educator relationship into a continuous, rich, collaborative partnership. A future HealthPad Commentary will describe an innovative and cost effective Mexican mHealth program, which has radically changed the patient-educator relationship by encouraging people, who are either at risk of T2DM or living with the condition, to take ownership of their own health, and become an integral member of their care team.

Diabetes is an out of control killer disease, which experts belief could be stemmed, reduced and prevented with effective education that is significantly cheaper than paying for treatment. Current diabetes education programs are failing miserably, and the prevalence of the disease is increasing rapidly, especially in young children.

Diabetes education and support require a radical overhaul to prevent the disease from spiralling out of control and bankrupting the NHS. This needs leadership to shape and drive a new and effective diabetes engagement/education model. Could DUK provide this?
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  • National diabetes prevention program (DPP) uses 19th century methods
  • 60% of adults in England are either overweight or obese
  • 5m adults in the UK are at risk of developing T2DM
  • T2DM devastates the lives of millions and costs billions to treat
  • NHS to offer personal trainers to obese people at risk of T2DM
  • There is no evidence that exercise alone can reduce obesity
  • Public Accounts Committee warns that the DPP is insufficient
Will the UK’s diabetes prevention program work?
Should we entrust the UK’s clinical establishment with preventing type-2 diabetes (T2DM)?

In March 2015 a consortium spearheaded by NHS England, Public Health England (PHE) and Diabetes UK (DUK) - the UK’s clinical establishment - launched the Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP). A year later, it has come up with Healthier You, an evidence-based program which it hopes will make a significant contribution towards preventing the 5m people in England at risk of T2DM from developing the disease.

What will Healthier You achieve?
Previous Commentaries have warned that diabetes will not be prevented by repeating past failures. Despite the fact that we know how to avoid and treat T2DM, and despite the fact that over the past decade some £110bn have been spent on diabetes care and education, the incidence rate of the condition has increased by a staggering 65% over the same period. And still each year In England, there are more than 22,000 avoidable deaths, from diabetes-related illnesses.
Because the size of the English population at risk of T2DM is so vast, and because Healthier You is using a variant of past diabetes education programs that have failed, it seems reasonable to suggest that while the DPP may have some limited success, it will fail to make a significant reduction to the overall burden of obesity, which devastates the lives of millions and costs billions.

Obesity and T2DM are global epidemics

Currently, in England alone some five million people are either overweight or obese, and therefore at high risk of developing T2DM. The economic cost of obesity is £6.3bn, and expected to rise to £8.3bn in 2025 and £9.7bn in 2050. However, this only reflects costs to the health service, and not wider economic consequences for society. In England in 2014, pharmacies dispensed just over half a million items for treating obesity with a net ingredient cost of £15.3 million. All of these prescriptions were for Orlistat, which prevents the body from absorbing fat from food.
If current obesity trends persist, one in three people in England will be obese by 2034, and 1 in 10 will develop T2DM. T2DM is a leading cause of preventable blindness, and is a major contributor to kidney failure, heart attack, and stroke. Each year about 120,000 people in the UK are newly diagnosed with diabetes, and there are about 22,000 avoidable annual deaths from diabetes-related causes. In addition to the human cost, T2DM treatment currently accounts for almost 9% of the annual NHS budget: about £8.8bn a year.
Similar trends can be seen in the US, where 86 million people are either overweight or obese and therefore have a high risk of developing T2DM. One in every three American adults has prediabetes, a condition that arises when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. There are 30 million Americans living with T2DM, resulting in two deaths every five minutes.

Obesity is a global epidemic. A study published in The Lancet in 2016 found that in the past four decades, global obesity has more than tripled among men and doubled among women. The study says that if current trends continue, 18% of men and 21% of women worldwide will be obese by 2025. According to Majid Ezzati, Professor of Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London, and the study's senior author, “We have transitioned [to] a world in which  . . . .more people are obese than underweight”. 

Diabetes is a global epidemic. Over the past 35 years 314m more people, making a total of 412m, are now living with the condition: 8.5% of adults worldwide. In 2012, 1.5m people died as a result of diabetes, and 2.2m additional deaths were caused by higher that optimal blood glucose.
In England, the rising prevalence of obesity in adults has led, and will continue to lead, to a rise in the prevalence of T2DM. This is likely to result in increased associated health complications and premature mortality, with people from deprived areas and some minority ethnic groups at particular risk. Modelled projections indicate that, all things being equal, costs to the NHS and wider costs to society associated with overweight, obesity and T2DM will rise dramatically in the next few decades.
Roni Sharvanu Saha, Consultant in acute medicine, diabetes and endocrinology at St Georges Hospital NHS Trust, London describes prediabetes:



DPP in the news
The launch of Healthier You triggered headlines such as, “Personal trainers on the NHS in war on diabetes”, which raised eyebrows and attracted criticism. Despite mounting evidence to suggest that physical activity alone cannot reduce obesity, and despite being attacked by the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the NHS, PHE and DUK are convinced that their DPP will be successful. Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, and one of the leaders of the DPP, says, “The growing body of evidence makes us confident that our national diabetes prevention programme will reduce the numbers of those at risk of going on to develop the debilitating disease”. Is Valabhji right?

Despite a year of planning and the optimism of the DPP leaders, the UK’s Public Accounts Committee has expressed serious doubts about the way the DPP is setting about its task, and has warned that, "By itself, this [the program] will not be enough to stem the rising number of people with diabetes".

Successful pilot studies
Behavioral interventions, which nudge people to adopt and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, can significantly reduce the risk of developing T2DM. Over the past year, seven demonstrator sites set up by the DPP in England have been testing innovative diabetes educational programs, and have reported the reduction of at-risk people from developing T2DM. One pilot that offered two exercise classes a week, and classroom sessions on diet and lifestyle, found that 100% of its participants lost weight, with more than half reducing their diabetes risk. Intelligence from these studies has informed Healthier You. Three quarters of England’s 211 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have already joined forces with local authorities, and will now work with four designated providers to offer personal care to those at high risk of developing T2DM.
The service providers
The four service providers are: (i) Momenta, which offers weight management for adults, and is part of the Reed Partnership that has already delivered over £0.6bn of publicly funded UK contracts, (ii) Pulse Healthcare, which is part of the ICS Group, an established healthcare service provider that offers health and wellbeing services to local authorities, CCGs and employers, (iii) Health Exchange, which was launched in 2006 as a local authority partnership to provide healthy living advice to local community groups, and (iv) Ingeus, which has evolved from a small Australian rehabilitation company in 1989 to an international provider of employment, training and support services.
US has similar diabetes prevention program
Healthier You is similar to a US diabetes prevention program, which was developed to improve the health of people at risk of T2DM through improved nutrition and physical activity.  In 2011, through funding provided by the Affordable Care Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) awarded the National Council of YMCA America more than $11.8m to enrol eligible Medicare beneficiaries at high risk of developing T2DM in a program that could reduce their risk.
Participants in the American program attended weekly meetings with a lifestyle coach who trained them in strategies for long-term dietary change, increased physical activity, and behavior changes to control their weight and reduce their risk of T2DM. After the initial weekly training sessions, participants could attend monthly follow-up meetings to help maintain healthy behaviors.
Over the course of 15 months, participants lost about 5% of their body weight, which, if maintained, is enough to substantially reduce their risk of future diabetes. Over 80% of participants attended at least four weekly sessions. When compared with similar people not in the program, Medicare estimated savings to be $2,650 for each participant over the 15-month period, which was more than enough to cover the cost of the program.
In 2016, independent experts found that the American program saved money and improved peoples’ health, and recommended its expansion into US Medicare. "This program has been shown to reduce health care costs and help prevent diabetes, and is one that Medicare, employers and private insurers can use to help 86 million Americans live healthier,” says US Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell.
The results of the US diabetes prevention program are promising, although there is no recognized evidence to suggest that exercise alone reduces obesity. Further, not enough time has elapsed to assess whether the program permanently changed the behavior of participants, and whether they maintained their initial loss of weight.
No evidence to suggest exercise can tackle obesity

Despite Healthier You’s emphasis on personal trainers, there is no evidence to suggest that exercise has a role in tackling obesity. A 2015 British Journal of Sports Medicine editorial suggests that it was time to “bust the myth” about exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic,Studies have demonstrated no or modest weight loss with exercise alone, and that, an exercise regime is unlikely to result in short-term weight loss”. The benefits of exercise are on insulin sensitivity and aerobic fitness, not weight loss. Exercise is a good way to keep weight off, but a bad way to lose weight. To put it in perspective, exercise burns calories, but substantially less than people often think. For example, 1lb of fat is 3,500 calories, and to burn 1lb of fat you would need to run about 40 miles.
19th century methods for a 21st century epidemic

The US experience and the English pilot studies suggest that Healthier You is likely to produce some improvement in the overall situation, but research suggests that this will more likely come from diet rather than exercise. The logistics and scale of the problem are so great that Healthier You is unlikely to have more than a relatively small impact. One-to-one life coaches are expensive, difficult to scale, and costly to administer. Successfully engaging a substantial proportion of the vast and rapidly growing English population at risk of developing T2DM, and nudging them to change their diets and lifestyles will require 21st century technologies. That the DPP has chosen 19th century labour-intensive methods to deal with a 21st century epidemic raises doubts about its efficacy.  Let us explain.
Not well planned

Healthier You’s 2016 objective is to identify 22,000 people at high risk of T2DM out of a population of 26m across 27 geographic regions of England, and offer them an intensive personalised course in weight loss, physical activity and diet, comprising at least 13 one-to-one, two-hour sessions, spread over nine months, which is estimated to cost £320 per person, or some £7m each year for the cost of the coaches alone.  

By 2020, the DPP expects to have rolled out Healthier You to the whole country, and each year thereafter expects to recruit 100,000 at-risk people found to have high blood sugar levels. At this rate, it will take 50 years, at a minimum annual cost of some £35.2m, to provide 26 hours of personal coaching for the 5m people at risk of T2DM in England. In addition to the cost, the logistics of effectively delivering and accounting for such a program is a significant challenge. The four designated service providers are expected to join forces with the 211 English CCGs, which are the cornerstone of NHS England, and with several thousand local authorities to deliver each year 2.6m hours of one-to-one personal coaching to 100,000 people at risk of T2DM drawn from an adult population of some 50m, and spread across nearly 60 geographic regions in England. A significant percentage of the beneficiaries will be in full time employment and therefore have time constraints. Another complexity is that each CCG commission’s primary care for an average of 226,000 people, and there are some 8,000 GP practices, which ‘own’ the patient data.

Moreover, the £35.2m annual cost estimate does not include the administrative costs associated with identifying and triaging the 5m at-risk people to recruit annually 100,000 people most at risk who will be offered personal coaching, and monitoring the impact this will have on patient outcomes. It seems reasonable to suppose that Healthier You will be difficult to manage, given that the current NHS primary care infrastructure is at breaking point, with a shrinking pool of overworked and demoralised GPs. It will also be extremely expensive as well as wholly inadequate for the scale of the problem. Recently, Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “Rising patient demand, excess bureaucracy, fewer resources and chronic shortage of GPs [are] resulting in worn-out doctors, some of whom are so fatigued that they can no longer guarantee to provide safe care to patients.

Simple arithmetic
Did the leaders of the DPP not only over emphasize the potential impact of exercise on obesity, and their ability to manage the program and underestimate the program's costs; but also get their arithmetic wrong in planning the roll out of Healthier You? The DPP leaders must have known that each year for the past 10 years there have been some 100,000 new diagnoses of T2DM. Even if we assume that: (i) there will be no future increase in the incidence rates of obesity and T2DM, (ii) by 2020 Healthier You will be 100% effective in recruiting its annual target of 100,000 at risk people, (iii) Healthier You will be 100% successful in changing the diets and lifestyles of the 100,000 people it recruits each year, and (iv) the annual death rate from diabetes-related causes will remain constant; the conclusion is unavoidable that although the DPP will be spending a minimum of £35m a year to deploy personal trainers, there will still be millions of overweight and obese people, and the incidence rate of T2DM will still be vast and escalating. The T2DM epidemic will not have been dented.
The UK’s Secretary of State for Health says, “We will be looking closely at the results of this programme.” Does this mean that its leaders will be accountable? To date, the UK government’s record on making people accountable for diabetes care and education is poor.

An earlier Commentary drew attention to the fact that UK diabetes agencies responsible for spending millions each year on diabetes education and awareness programmes which fail, only report on the distribution of services, rather than on the impact those services have had on patient outcomes, which is the most appropriate way of measuring the Healthier You’s effectiveness.  See, The importance of measuring the impact of diabetes care. 

What will Healthier You achieve?  Given the success of the English pilot studies and the success of the similar American diabetes prevention program, it seems reasonable to expect Healthier You to produce some improvement in the overall situation. However, the scale of the problem is so vast, its management infrastructure so weak, and the impact of exercise on obesity so little, that Healthier You is unlikely to have more than a relatively small impact. The size of the UK population at risk of T2DM is so great that much more modern and efficient tools are needed to get to grips with the problem and make a real difference. A future Commentary will be devoted to describing some of the technological advances being made to tackle obesity and T2DM.
Preventing T2DM is too important to be entrusted to our well-resourced clinical establishment that has failed to dent the large and rapidly rising burden of the condition. Preventing T2DM requires leadership and an efficacious strategy, which in the short term, innovates and leverages the use of mobile technologies to engage millions of at-risk people, and nudge them to become permanently enthusiastic about changing their diets and lifestyles; in the medium term, recruits corporates, educational establishments, restaurants, and faith groups into the overall prevention strategy; and in the long term, promotes changes in our environment so that we are obliged to live healthier lives. 
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Type-2 diabetes will not be prevented by repeating past failures

  • England has embarked on a national diabetes prevention programme (DPP)
  • In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese
  • Obesity is the main risk factor for type-2 diabetes
  • Over the past decade diabetes in the UK has increased by 60% and now affects 4m
  • Diabetes care consumes about 10% of the NHS’s annual budget of £116.4bn
  • Traditional diabetes care and education fail to dent the UK’s diabetes burden
  • The national DPP has got off to a slow start
  • Type-2 diabetes will not be prevented by repeating past failures
  • Lessons can be learnt from Oklahoma


Should we entrust an expensive national diabetes prevention programme to health officials who are failing?

DIABETES is a chronic disease, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. This leads to an increased concentration of glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia). Type-1 diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production. Type-2 diabetes is caused by the body's ineffective use of insulin, and often results from excess body weight and physical inactivity

In the video below Sufyan Hussain describes type-2 diabetes; its propensity among certain ethnic groups, and some of its complications. Dr Hussain is a Darzi Fellow in Clinical Leadership, Specialist Registrar and Honorary Clinical Lecturer in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London. Also in the video are Richard Lane, former President of DUK who draws attention to pre-diabetes, and a patient with type-2 diabetes who describes his diagnosis and family history.

       (click on the image to play) 

The national diabetes prevention programme (DPP)

In March 2015 NHS England, Public Health England (PHE) and Diabetes UK (DUK) launched the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, (DPP), with the objective to limit the number of people developing type-2 diabetes. The DPP is an expensive national initiative expected to enrol up to five million people with blood sugar levels so high that they are at risk of the disease. See: Preventing diabetes in high-risk people.
There are too many people on the cusp of developing type-2 diabetes, and we can change that. The growing body of evidence makes us confident that our national diabetes prevention programme will reduce the numbers of those at risk of going on to develop the debilitating disease,” says Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, and one of the leaders of the DPP.

Eye-watering costs for failure

The UK’s record of diabetes care and prevention is poor. Despite £14bn being spent annually by the NHS on diabetes care, and some £20 million annually by DUK on diabetes education and awareness programmes, over the past 10 years people with diabetes have increased by 60%. Those responsible for diabetes care and support have not been held accountable, but continue to provide care and support that is failing to reduce the devastating personal, social and economic burden of diabetes. As a consequence the situation is becoming grave.
The latest figures from DUK suggest that the number of people with diabetes has topped four million - 8% of England’s adult population - and is on course to reach five million in less than a decade. In addition, there are currently 5 million people in England at high risk of developing type-2 diabetes. 64% of adults in the UK are either overweight or obese, which is the principal risk factor of type-2 diabetes. According to Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, soaring rates of obesity pose such a threat that they should be treated as a “national risk” alongside terrorism. 

If nothing changes, diabetes treatment costs alone could bankrupt the NHS. Despite these trends and the poor record of prevention and management, health officials leading the DPP confidently say that the new national programme will make a significant impact on the prevention of type-2 diabetes, and save £3 for every £1 spent. Officials however do not produce figures showing what the upfront costs of the programme will be.
Duncan Selbie, CEO of PHE and a leader of the DPP, said: “We know how to lower the risk of developing type-2 diabetes: lose weight, exercise and eat healthily  . . . . PHE’s evidence review shows that supporting people along the way will help them protect their health, and that’s what our prevention programme will do.” In 2015-16, the DPP aims to support up to 10,000 people at risk of type-2 diabetes with “motivational coaches”, paid for by the NHS, to provide advice on weight loss, physical activity and diet.

The Public Accounts Committee takes up the cudgels

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has expressed serious criticisms of the way in which the DPP is setting about its task of limiting the number of people who develop type-2 diabetes.   

It has said that the DPP is presenting an, "unduly healthy picture" of the state of diabetes services. "It’s not rocket science to tackle diabetes . . . . The NHS and Department for Health have been too slow in tackling diabetes, both in prevention and treatment . . . . . As a priority, action must be taken to ensure best practice in treatment and education is adopted across the board . . . . Taxpayers must have confidence that support is available when and where it is needed," says Meg Hillier, Chair of the PAC.

Not keeping pace

The PAC complained that the DPP’s approach lacked urgency, as some 200,000 people are newly diagnosed with diabetes every year, and it stressed that most people would be shocked to know that around 22,000 people with diabetes still die early every year.

Public Accounts Committee’s recommendations

The PAC said that the DPP, “will need to move at pace and at scale to stem the rising number of people with diabetes,” and recommended that by April 2016 the programme’s leaders, “set out a timetable to ramp up participation in the national DPP to 100,000 people a year, set out what it will cost, and how the programme will target those areas with the highest prevalence of diabetes. Public Health England should also set out how its other public health activities, such as marketing campaigns, will contribute to preventing diabetes.” The growing frustration of government officials with diabetes care and support is described in: Diabetes Wars
The PAC also expressed concerns about the low numbers of people either at risk of or living with diabetes who actually receive education to help them manage their condition. The committee recommended that the DPP, “develop a better and more flexible range of education support for diabetes patients.” Alternative diabetes educational programmes, which employ behavioural techniques to nudge people to change their diets and lifestyles, adhere to medication and get screened regularly, actually exist, but officials responsible for diabetes education turn a blind eye to these, and continue supporting traditional educational programmes that fail. See: Online video education can reduce the burden of diabetes and DUK and HealthPad agree on the importance of diabetes education

The Public Accounts Committee should demand more from the DPP

The PAC is right to recommend that the DPP “quickens its pace and increases its scope”; because, over the past 10 years, the NHS has spent more than £100bn on diabetes treatment alone, and DUK has spent some £200 million on education and awareness programmes, yet diabetes in the UK has increased by 60%.
Part of the responsibility for raising awareness and encouraging education among people living with diabetes falls to Diabetes UK, the largest and most influential charity for the condition in the UK. In addition to supporting research the charity is mandated to: (i) “Provide relief for people with diabetes and its related complications and to those who care for them, (ii) Promote the welfare of people with diabetes and its related complications and of those who care for them, and (iii) Advance the understanding of diabetes by education of people with diabetes, the health professionals and others who care for them, and the general public.”
Each year DUK spends about £20 million on, (i) raising awareness of diabetes, (ii) supporting self-management of the condition, and (iii) improving the quality of diabetes care. Despite this relatively large spend, DUK only manages to reach a relatively small percentage of the millions of people living with diabetes. For example in 2014, only 0.5% of people with diabetes used the DUK care line, the charity sent information packs to only 1.25% of the people with diabetes, only 0.3% signed up for e-learning courses, and only 0.4% of the 5 million people at risk of type-2 diabetes have used the DUK risk calculator. 
The PAC is also right to demand more effective and flexible education programmes to propel people to self-manage their condition. Only 16% of people diagnosed with diabetes are offered traditional educational courses, and only 4% of these actually take up the courses. This suggests that there is a crying need for organizations responsible for diabetes education and awareness programmes to increase their understanding of how to engage people and nudge them to change their diets and lifestyles, and improve their use of online communications technology, which makes servicing any number of patient groups, of any size, in any geography, easy and cheap.

More importance should be given to patient outcomes

The PAC should demand more from the DPP, and recommend that it measures and reports annually on the programme’s success in preventing those at risk of type-2 diabetes from developing the condition. “I’ve been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal . . . This may seem pretty basic, but it’s amazing to me how often it is not done,” says Bill Gates. An earlier Commentary drew attention to the fact that UK diabetes agencies responsible for spending millions each year on diabetes education and awareness programmes which fail, only report on the distribution of services, rather than on the impact those services have had on patient outcomes, which is the most appropriate way of measuring the programme’s effectiveness. See, The importance of measuring the impact of diabetes care.

Oklahoma: America’s fattest city

Contrast England’s national DPP with an American prevention programme developed and led by Mike Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City, which is known as the “fattest city in America”. Cornett dealt with the challenge very differently.

Rejected doctors’ advice

Spurred on by his own weight-loss regime after discovering he was classed as obese, Mike Cornett wanted to transform Oklahoma City into a place where obesity could no longer thrive. While he was aware of the on going debates among clinicians and medical researchers about the best strategies to prevent type-2 diabetes, Cornett was not convinced that traditional health officials had credible answers. On New Year's Eve 2007, Cornett announced that Oklahoma City was going to go on a diet to lose a collective one million pounds.
Cornett did not start his prevention strategy by spending money to review evidence from existing diabetes studies; he did not develop a ‘framework’ to be reviewed and sanctioned by an expert panel of clinicians; he neither initiated primary care pilot projects, nor set up demonstrator sites in GPs’ surgeries; and he did not ask doctors to identify people with non-diabetic hyperglycaemia, defined as having an HbA1c of 42 – 47 mm/mol (6.0 – 6.4%) or a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) of 5.5 - 6.9 mmol/mol.  In contrast, all the above was done by England’s DPP.

Losing one million pounds becomes a talking point

Having rejected the help of clinicians and healthcare officials, and without spending any money, Cornett started a website, thiscityisgoingonadiet.com, and encouraged citizens to register, and track how much weight they were losing.
His awareness campaign took off: churches set up running clubs, schools discussed diets, companies held contests to lose weight; restaurants competed to offer healthy meals. More importantly, people across the City began discussing obesity, which was a crisis spiralling out of control.  More than 51,000 people, 59% of those over 45, signed up to his website and lost weight. By January 2012, Oklahoma City reached its target of shedding one million pounds.  

Cornett was pleased that people had lost weight, but more importantly, he understood that the challenge was not over - it was just beginning. The hidden success of Cornett’s weight loss campaign was that he had successfully engaged an at-risk population. Obesity became a talking point. Mayor Cornett had successfully nudged a city population to change their diets and lifestyles and lose weight. “The message about nutrition and health penetrated Oklahoma City,” says Cornett.

Today, 30% of people in the central Oklahoma region, which includes Oklahoma City, are still obese. Oklahoma City’s obesity rates, while still rising, have been reduced from 6% to 1% a year.  In the lowest income areas of the City, which have the highest rates of diabetes complications, key indicators of diabetes have been reduced by between 2% and 10% in five years, and the City overall has seen a 3% fall in diabetes related mortality rates.

Changing the health of a community takes a long time - probably a generation,” says Cornett. On 7th April 2015, Oklahoma State introduced a law relating to diabetes prevention, which demanded “detailed action plans for battling diabetes with actionable items for consideration by the Legislature including, but not limited to, steps to reduce the impact of diabetes, pre-diabetes, and related diabetes complications.” This would not have happened had it not been for the actions and initiative taken by Mike Cornett.

Diabetes and the built environment

Now that a population was engaged, Cornett asked taxpayers for $777 million to fund projects designed to prevent type-2 diabetes in the long term by rebuilding Oklahoma City around the pedestrian rather than the car. The money was forthcoming and Cornett used it to change Oklahoma’s built environment by developing new parks, installing bicycle lanes, reducing driving lanes and introducing buses, creating a boating district, and building pavements, which had not been built for some 30 years. Recent years have seen growing research interest in the relationships between obesity and the built environment. Today, Oklahoma City is a real-time experiment for what happens when you alter the built environment that affects the way people live and behave. 


Preventing type-2 diabetes will not be achieved by a group of academic clinicians and healthcare officials repeating past failures. Preventing type-2 diabetes entails winning the battle against obesity, reducing poverty, and changing peoples’ diets and lifestyles. To do this you first have to engage people and nudge them to change their behaviour.

If the Secretary of State for Health is serious about preventing type-2 diabetes in the UK he would do well to learn from what Mayor Cornett accomplished.  Having done that, he should enlist the help of Mayor Boris Johnson to replace the current leaders of the national DPP.

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  • Promising animal study suggests a vaccine for type-1 diabetes
  • Harvard’s Dana Faber Cancer Institute endorses the study
  • Lab spent years detailing the molecular immune system's response to insulin
  • The therapy for type-1 diabetes is insulin, but there’s no cure
  • Living with type-1 diabetes is a constant challenge

A molecule that prevents type-1 diabetes in mice has provoked an immune response in human cells, according to scientists from the National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado. The findings, published in the 2015 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that a mutated insulin fragment could be used to prevent type-1 diabetes in humans.

Strategies that work in mice often fail in humans 

Previously, researchers tried administering insulin to people at risk of the disease as a form of immunotherapy similar to allergy injections, but this didn’t provoke an effective response. John Kappler, Professor of Biomedical Research at National Jewish Health says, "Our findings provide an important proof of concept in humans for a promising vaccination strategy." In 2011, researchers from Harvard University’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute reported that Kappler’s strategy prevented type-1 diabetes in mice. However, strategies that work in mice often fail in humans.

Promising findings

Kappler’s findings suggest that an insulin fragment with a change to a single amino acid could provoke an immune response. The idea comes from work in Kappler's laboratory detailing the molecular immune system's response to insulin. This suggests that mutating one amino acid in an insulin fragment, and then presenting the insulin to the immune system, might provoke better recognition by the immune system.

Researchers mixed a naturally occurring insulin fragment, and the mutated insulin fragment with separate cultures of human cells. They found that human T-cells responded minimally to the naturally occurring insulin fragment, but relatively strongly to the mutated one. The human T-cells produce both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals known as cytokines, and scientists believe that healthy immune responses balance pro- and anti-inflammatory factors. Autoimmune disease occurs when the pro-inflammatory response dominates.

Type-1 diabetes

Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables individuals to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. The causes of type-1 diabetes are not fully understood, but scientists believe that both genetic and environmental factors are involved. Dr Sufyan Hussain of Imperial College, London explains:


      (click on the image to play the video) 

Type-1 diabetes most typically presents in early age with a peak around the time of puberty. Historically the condition has been most prevalent in populations of European origin, but is becoming more frequent in other ethnic groups. Kuwait, for example, now has an incidence of 22.3/100,000. India and China have relatively low incidence rates, but account for a high proportion of the world’s children with type-1 diabetes because of their large populations. 

Living with type1 diabetes

Living with type-1 diabetes is a constant challenge. People with the condition must carefully balance insulin doses (either by multiple injections every day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and other activities throughout the day. They must also measure their blood-glucose levels by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day. Despite this constant attention, people with type-1 diabetes run the risk of high or low blood-glucose levels, both of which can be life threatening. People with type-1 diabetes overcome these challenges on a daily basis. While insulin injections or infusions allow a person with the condition to stay alive, they don’t cure the disease, nor do they necessarily prevent the possibility of the disease’s complications, which may include kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke, and pregnancy complications. Richard Lane, President of Diabetes UK, and a person living with type-1 diabetes, describes some of the lifestyle changes associated with the condition:


        (click on the image to play the video)


While Kappler’s results don’t prove that the mutated insulin fragment will work as a vaccine in humans, they do demonstrate a response in humans consistent with the vaccination response in mice. "The new findings confirm that the painstaking work we have done to understand the unconventional interaction of insulin and the immune system has relevance in humans and could lead to a vaccine and a treatment for diabetes," says Kappler. 

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The importance of measuring the impact of diabetes care

  • Bill Gates says that measurement is key to reducing disease
  • Type-2 diabetes is the fastest growing health threat of our time, it is preventable, but not properly measured
  • Expensive diabetes programs fail to dent the burden of the disease
  • Taxpayers have a right to know the annual impact of diabetes care and education on the incidence, outcomes and costs of the disease
  • Healthcare agencies must agree and report clear goals that drive progress

Bill Gates is right. Measurement is central to the success of reducing the global incidence of diseases. Can we learn something from Bill Gates to help reverse the epidemic of type-2 diabetes: a preventable disease, which is spiralling out of control, and set to bankrupt healthcare systems?

Dr Syed Sufyan Hussain, Darzi Fellow in Clinical Leadership, Specialist Registrar and Clinical Lecturer in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, at Imperial College London, describes the challenge:

             (click on the image to play the video) 

The UK

Similar to other developed nations, diabetes in the UK is the largest and fastest growing health challenge of our time. Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled: 3.9 million people now have diabetes, another 9.6 million are at high risk of getting type-2 diabetes, and every year, that number is rising dramatically. If nothing changes, in 10 years time more than four million people in England will have diabetes. This suggests that current diabetes care programmes and education are failing.

Diabetes is expensive, and current annual treatment costs alone are about £10bn - some 10% of the annual NHS budget - and 80% of this is spent on managing avoidable complications. For example, diabetes is the most common cause of lower limb amputations, and over 6,000 happen each year in England alone. The result is frequently devastating in terms of social functioning and mood, and poses a considerable cost to healthcare providers, while the financial burden on patients and their families can be enormous.

The total annual costs of diabetes, which includes both direct and indirect costs, such as the loss of earnings because of illness, are difficult to measure, but are estimated to be about £24bn per year. If nothing changes, these costs are projected to rise to nearly £40bn in 20 years. This further suggests that current diabetes care programmes and education are failing. 

Doing more of the same 

In its 2015 State of the Nation Report, Diabetes UK (DUK), a large and influential charity, urged the UK Government and NHS England to do more in order to ensure that people with diabetes get the support and education they need to manage their condition. However, if the UK government and NHS England do more of the same, nothing will change, and diabetes will continue to escalate, destroying lives and costing billions. Let us go back to Bill Gates.

Measures to drive progress

I’ve been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal . . . . This may seem pretty basic, but it’s amazing to me how often it is not done,” says Gates.

The UK government, NHS England, Public Health England and DUK do not share an agreed set of indicators, which measure and report on the impact of diabetes care and education. Given that each year billions are spent on diabetes, these agencies should be obliged to report annually on the impact that their diabetes care and education programs have on the prevalence, outcomes and costs of diabetes. Let us return to Bill Gates, and his efforts to reduce the global burden of HIV.

Bill Gates 

The 2013 annual report of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation stresses that it, “Enhances, the impact of every dollar invested by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our HIV program, [which] supports efforts to reduce the global incidence of HIV significantly and sustainably, and to help people infected with HIV lead long, healthy, and productive lives. The global incidence of HIV has declined 20% since its peak in the mid-1990s.” 

Now, tweak the above paragraph to create a gold standard annual report of the state of diabetes in the UK. The government, NHS England, Public Health England and DUK, “Enhances the impact of every pound invested in diabetes by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our diabetes programs and education [sic], which support efforts to reduce the UK’s incidence of diabetes significantly and sustainably, and to help people living with diabetes to lead long, healthy, and productive lives. [Notwithstanding,] since 1996, the UK’s incidence of diabetes has increased by 110%, complications have increased by 115%, and annual treatment costs have increased by at least £2bn.”

Changing demographics

In the above paragraph we used indicative numbers to show direction. Some, but not all, of the reported increases can be explained by demographic changes. For example, over the past 20 years, the UK’s population has increased by 5.5 million and aged, and now more than 18% are over 65, and this cohort is rising. According to the Office of National Statistics, 60% of the population increase is due to immigration. David Coleman, a professor of demographics at Oxford University, suggests that this mass influx of migrants has given the UK, Europe’s fastest-rising percentage of ethnic minority and foreign-born populations, and by 2040 foreigners and non-white Britons living here will double and make up one third of the UK population. 

This has important healthcare implications because type-2 diabetes is more than six times more common in people of South Asian descent, and up to three times more common among people of African and African-Caribbean origin. Studies show that people of Black and South Asian ethnicity also develop type-2 diabetes at an earlier age than people from the White population in the UK, generally about 10 years earlier. All these factors have a knock-on affect for healthcare. According to the Institute of Economic Affairs the changing demographics in the UK has created a “debt-time bomb’ that will require the end of universal free healthcare. 


Diabetes plays a prominent role in the health of the UK, and not all of its rising burden can be explained by changing demographics. The escalating burden of type-2 diabetes can be reduced and prevented by effective management and education, which engage people living with, or at risk of diabetes, and changes their behavior. Current education programs fail to do this. 

Instead of asking the government and NHS England to, “do more”, is it not time for those responsible for diabetes care to learn from Bill Gate, and, agree and report annually, measures that inform on the impact that diabetes care and education is having on the incidence, outcomes and costs of diabetes? 

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DUK and HealthPad agree on the importance of diabetes education

  • Diabetes in the UK is spiralling out of control
  • People with diabetes are not receiving the care they need
  • Education for people living with diabetes must improve
  • CCGs need to increase the effectiveness of diabetes education
  • Policy makers must be more open-minded about digital health
  • Policy makers should prepare the UK for the digital future


DUK and HealthPad

Diabetes UK (DUK) and HealthPad are on the same page in recommending more effective education to reduce the escalating burden of diabetes. DUK insists that, “Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) need to increase the availability and uptake of a range of diabetes education and learning opportunities”.

Managing My Diabetes

HealthPad has developed a cost effective digital diabetes education service specifically for CCGs to: (i) increase the connectivity between local health professionals and people with diabetes, (ii) enhance patients’ knowledge of the condition, (iii) propel people with the condition towards self management, (iv) slow the onset of complications and (v) reduce face-time with doctors, see: Reducing the burden of diabetes by online video.

The state of the nation 

DUK’s 2015 State of the Nation Report laments that the incidence rates of diabetes continues to spiral out of control, and people with diabetes is now at an all time high of 3.9 million, with a further 600,000 estimated to have undiagnosed type-2 diabetes. Further, 2015 National Statistical Office figures, show that 67.1% of adult males and 57.2% of adult females in the UK are either overweight or obese, and therefore at risk of type-2 diabetes. 

There is no way of preventing type-1 diabetes, which occurs as a result of the body being unable to produce insulin, and usually develops in childhood, affecting 10% of sufferers. However, type-2 diabetes is the result of bad diets and sedentary lifestyles, and is preventable with effective education. Left unchecked, diabetes can result in devastating health complications such as kidney and heart disease, blindness and amputations. Also, diabetes costs the NHS nearly £10bn each year, 80% of which is spent on managing avoidable complications.

Gaping hole” in effective education

DUK director of policy Bridget Turner said, "There is a gaping hole when it comes to diabetes education . . . . This is despite strong evidence that giving people the knowledge and skills to manage their diabetes effectively can reduce their long-term risk of complications . . . . We must get better at offering education to people who are living with diabetes." Dr Sufyan Hussain, a lecturer and clinical registrar in diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism at Imperial College and Hammersmith Hospital, London, has used HealthPad, a digital platform, to develop a portfolio of educational videos for people with diabetes. Here is one about insulin: 

                (click on the image to play the video)

Calling on the NHS

DUK said that it is “calling on” the NHS to do more. One difference between NHS England and HealthPad is the emphasis they respectively place on digital platforms for delivering diabetes education. Currently, digital platforms are not widely used by the NHS. One possible reason for this is because the NHS is a sanctuary for technophobes. Patients however are not technophobes. General attitudes towards digital healthcare are rapidly changing. The over 65s are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, and quickly adopting digital channels as a source for healthcare information. Research from the Office of National Statistics shows that, between 2006 and 2013, Internet use of the over 65s more than tripled, and their demand for digital health services grew significantly.

Not all health providers are technophobes, and some acknowledge that the NHS has failed to make the most of digital technologies. Changes that these enlightened health providers suggest are contentious; because of the lack of competitiveness the NHS reflects its fragmented single entity, and NHS policy makers stress harmonization rather than competition. This results in the quality of healthcare in the UK becoming a postal code lottery. The NHS cannot expect to improve while there is still a lack of competition and such fragmentation.

Network effects

A significant challenge for the NHS is how to deal with digital healthcare platforms: the search engines and websites that constitute the metaphysical health providers in the digital age. What drives new healthcare platforms are economies of scale in gathering and distributing healthcare data and information, which patients want in order to manage their conditions better. The network effects of digital platforms result in more patients finding digital healthcare services ever more compelling. Platforms engage patients, and encourage them to return for updates and more information about their condition. 


It is time that the NHS started to assess the role that platforms can play in the delivery of healthcare. However, the NHS does not know enough to opine with confidence on digital health and the knowledge economy. This does not only result in NHS policy makers being unable to pick technological winners; it also means that technological losers are picking the NHS.

Healthcare and the educational needs of patients must to be conducted in a more open-minded spirit, not simply reflect the status quo, and fall prey to vested interests. The task of healthcare policy makers should be to prepare the UK for the digital future, not to try to stop it happening. 

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Preventing diabetes in high-risk people
  • NHS England is to spearhead a national diabetes prevention program
  • The program aims to prevent diabetes in high risk people by 2025
  • 35% of adults in the UK are living with pre-diabetes
  • The program MUST report outcomes NOT delivered services
  • Type-2 diabetes devastates millions of lives and costs billions
  • Big Data strategies can help NHS England improve patient outcomes

Early in 2015, NHS England, Public Health England, and Diabetes UK (the Troika), announced a national joint initiative to prevent diabetes developing in high-risk people by 2025, and declared that England should be, “The most successful country on the planet at implementing a national diabetes prevention programme.” 

Forced to act
About 35% of adults in the UK are living with pre-diabetes, a condition in which your blood sugar level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type-2 diabetes. It’s caused by obesity, sedentary lifestyles, dietary trends, and an ageing population, and without appropriate action, pre-diabetics will develop type-2 diabetes; a disease that reduces life-expectancy, and can lead to complications such as blindness, and amputation that seriously affect quality of life, and costs billions.       

Dr Roni Saha, a consultant in acute medicine, diabetes and endocrinology at St George’s Hospital, London describes pre-diabetes: 

Importance of patient outcomes.
It’s important that the Troika uses patient outcomes, and NOT delivered services as an indicator of its performance. Diabetes agencies regularly report services they deliver, while the prevalence and the cost of diabetes continue to escalate. Outcome data help people take an active role in their healthcare, and provide health providers important feedback, which informs the re-allocation of scarce resources to further enhance patient outcomes, and reduce costs.  

Immediately, the Troika announced its initiative, doctors raised concerns about the additional burden it would place on GPs. World renowned heart surgeon Devi Shetty, the founder and Chairman of Narayana Health, India, views doctors as significant obstacles to the introduction of technologies, which can improve significantly patient outcomes:


Big data
The Troika might consider using Big Data to enhance the performance of its diabetes initiative. Big Data can pool the experiences of people with pre-diabetes, suggest which regimens work best for which individuals, allow health providers to evaluate diet and lifestyles practices, and compare them within and across organizations and communities. Information about blood sugar levels, and hypertensive blood pressure can be transmitted directly into electronic health records of people with pre-diabetes. Data systems can notify health providers of problematic trends with individuals, which gives them an opportunity to intervene early, perhaps with just a telephone call, rather than waiting for an emergent and costly episode.

NHS England is selectively using the John Hopkins’ Adjusted Clinical Groups (ACGs) system, which should be a contender to support the Troika’s diabetes prevention initiative. ACG is a clinically inspired risk stratification and predictive modeling tool, which draws on demographic, diagnostic, pharmacy, and utilization data from primary and secondary care, to assess the health status of a population in order to plan services, budget and manage resources, and assess patient outcomes. 

Beyond the clinic
Big Data can also monitor people living with pre-diabetes outside the clinic. By linking patients’ shopping histories, social media, and location information through third-party data vendors, health providers can gain a window into peoples’ daily health behavior, thought to determine up to 50% of peoples’ overall health status. This is important for preventing diabetes developing in high-risk groups.

Instead of thinking from the patient level up, there are now enough good data to examine whole populations, and extrapolate what will happen to an individual at risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Big Data can create a convenient, real-time healthcare experience for people living with pre-diabetes. Insights gleaned from the data can improve the quality and accessibility of peoples’ care, and help foster a spirit of cooperation between patients, communities and health providers.

No data is more personal than health data, and patients expect extra privacy protection if they are to participate in Big Data projects. One simple approach is to anonymize the data. Even for internal reporting and research, providers would not be able to gain access to identity information, and this is reassuring to patients..

Will England become, “The most successful country on the planet at implementing a national diabetes prevention program”? Will the Troika successfully prevent pre-diabetics from developing type-2 diabetes? If the Troika’s program fails to improve patient outcomes, who will be held responsible? 
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Online video education can reduce the burden of diabetes

  • UK treatment costs for diabetes are £10bn per year and rising fast
  • London CCG adopts video education to reduce the burden of diabetes
  • Diabetes educational videos delivered directly to patients’ mobiles
  • Enhances patient satisfaction yet reduces face-time with doctors
  • Videos are peoples’ preferred way to receive healthcare information
  • Videos increase knowledge and self-management, and slows complications
  • Videos deliver 10 times the response rate of text and graphics


Managing My Diabetes is a new, evidence-based service, which offers a smarter and better way to engage and educate people with type-2 diabetes. It’s delivered by video directly to patients’ mobiles, and aims to significantly dent the eye watering, and rapidly escalating personal, financial and societal costs of this preventable condition. A London CCG is an early adopter. 

Dr Seth Rankin, co-chair of Wandsworth CCG’s Diabetes Group, Managing Partner of Wandsworth Medical Centre, and a long time advocate of the use of video in diabetes education, says, “In traditional doctor-patient consultations, patients often don’t absorb important information, and videos help to redress this. Managing My Diabetes engages patients, and provides them with trusted and convenient video information about their condition, which is a necessary prerequisite for any behavioural change”.

In addition to being the preferred format for patients to receive healthcare information, videos generate responses that are 10-times greater than that generated by text and graphics. Further, unlike health professionals, videos never wear out, they can be dubbed in any language, they’re easily and cheaply updated.

Importance of a patient user-base

Once people with diabetes are familiar with the initial Managing My Diabetes service, health providers can easily bolt on additional services to help people further manage their diabetes. This follows the model of digital champions such as Google and Facebook, which succeeded by using a simple core service, which successfully built a user base, and then, and only then, offered more services, thus continuously increasing the familiarity of their users with their services; and in turn the intensity with which they use them. Recently, the Department of Health failed to establish an online doctor-patient user-base for a £31m telehealth project, and it failed, see, Lessons from an axed telehealth project

Rankin describes the genesis and benefits of Managing My Diabetes:


        (click on the image to play the video) 

Video content library

Currently, there is no easy way for people with diabetes to quickly and easily obtain reliable online answers to their FAQs in video formats that they prefer, and there is no easy method for health professionals to post answers to patients’ questions about diabetes in a convenient online video format. 

At the heart of Managing My Diabetes is a content library of some 250 videos contributed by local health professionals, which address patients’ FAQs about managing their diabetes. Each video is between 60 and 80 seconds in duration, which is the average attention span of people seeking online video healthcare information. All videos are linked to bios of the contributors, which help patients judge the validity of the videos. 

Health professionals can cluster and send videos directly to patients’ mobiles to quickly and efficiently address their questions. Also, patients can rapidly access the entire diabetes video content library at any time, from anywhere on any devise. 

Managing My Diabetes is designed to: (i) enhance the connectivity between local health professionals and patients, (ii) increase the knowledge of diabetes among people with the condition, (iii) encourage self-management, (iv) slow the onset of complications, and (v) reduce face-time with doctors. 

Roni Saha, a consultant in acute medicine, diabetes and endocrinology at St George’s University Hospital, London, who contributed a portfolio of educational videos to Managing My Diabetes, describes risks for pregnant women with diabetes: 


     (click on the image to play the video) 

Traditional diabetes education has failed 

No one knows the true costs of type-2 diabetes, but its treatment costs alone are estimated to be some £10bn per year, and, in 20 years, expected to increase to £17bn; with diabetes complications costing a further £12bn per year. This highlights the pressing need to reduce the burden of the condition, which can be achieved by effective education. 

Traditional diabetes education that cost millions has failed to reduce the burden of diabetes. According to the National Diabetes Audit, less that 2% of people with diabetes attend any form of structured education. Instead, they regularly search the Internet for healthcare information, and use social media to share information they find. This is carried out at lightning speed, 24-7, 365 days a year. 

Health providers must come to terms with the fact that the balance of power has shifted from traditional providers of diabetes education to people living with the condition who are primarily interested in how education affects their outcomes. Failure to provide this link, leads to people disengaging and losing interest. 

What do people with diabetes want? 

Understanding the myths and realities about what patients really want from diabetes education is vital to capturing its value. A 2014 study by HealthPad into the efficacy of using videos in diabetes education concluded that there is a significant unmet need for trusted and convenient video educational material to help people manage their diabetes remotely: see: How GPs can improve diabetes outcomes and reduce costs. 

Age factor 

Because 63% of people with type-2 diabetes in England are over 60, a question that must be asked is whether delivering educational videos directly to their mobiles is really appropriate. The HealthPad study suggests that it is, and a 2014 McKinsey & Co survey on patients’ opinions of digital healthcare services agrees. Patients over 50 want digital healthcare services as much as younger counterparts. By 2018 smartphone penetration in the UK is expected to be almost 100%. The over 55s are experiencing the fastest year-on-year smartphone penetration, and the difference in smartphone penetration by age is expected to disappear by 2020, and Internet use has shifted from being exceptional to being commonplace.

Mobile devices are ubiquitous and personal, and competition will continue to drive lower pricing and increase functionality. Managing My Diabetes ensures that people living with diabetes will always be part of the doctor-patient network, which increases the variety; velocity, volume and value of educational information patients can receive.


Managing My Diabetes has been developed, tested and adopted by a London CCG. It has also a number of clinical champions. The service is designed to be easily and cost effectively embedded in primary care practices, and can be delivered in any language. 

If Managing My Diabetes is to dent the devastating burden of type-2 diabetes it will require national leadership to encourage CCG’s to adopt it, and health professionals to embrace it. Will NHS England and Diabetes UK play this much needed leadership role? If, in five years time, the burden of type-2 diabetes in England has not been significantly reduced, who will be accountable?

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