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  • 16% of cancers in the UK are linked to excess weight and type-2 diabetes (T2DM)
  • 62% of adults are overweight or obese in England
  • 4m people are living with T2DM in the UK and another 12m are at increased risk of T2DM
  • Prevalence rates of both obesity and T2DM are rising
  • Ineffective prevention initiatives should be replaced with effective ones if we are to dent the vast and escalating burden of obesity, T2DM and related cancers
  • Public health officials, clinicians and charities need to abandon ineffective inertia projects embrace innovation and look to international best practice 

 
Excess weight and type-2 diabetes linked to 16% of cancers in the UK
 
 
Being overweight and living with type-2 diabetes (T2DM) is a potentially deadly combination because it significantly increases your risk of cancer and contributes to the projected increase in cancer cases and deaths in the UK. Findings of a study published in the February 2018 edition of The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology suggest that a substantial number of UK cancer cases are linked to a combination of excess body mass index (BMI) and T2DM, which here we refer to as diabesity. To lower the growing burden of cancer associated with diabesity, more effective prevention strategies will be required. To achieve this, clinicians, public health officials and charities will need to reappraise their current projects, innovate, and learn from international best practice. 
 

BMI, obesity and T2DM defined
 
Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2). Overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25; and obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30. T2DM is a long-term metabolic disorder characterized by high blood glucose (sugar), insulin resistance, and relative lack of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, which is used by the body to manage glucose levels in the blood and helps the body to use glucose for energy.

 In this Commentary
 
This Commentary describes the findings of a study reported in a 2018 edition of The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, which suggests that current initiatives to prevent and reduce the burden of diabesity are ineffective. Previous Commentaries have described the Mexican Casalud and the Oklahoma City projects, which have successfully reduced obesity and type-2 diabetes (T2DM). These represent innovative international best practice, which have been largely gone unnoticed by the UK’S diabetes establishment. Also, we describe findings of a study published in the May 2017 edition of Scientific Reports, which suggests that although Google trend data can detect early signs of diabetes, they are underutilized by traditional diabetes surveillance models. The prevalence of diabesity in the UK is significant and growing so fast that public health officials, clinicians and charities will have to replace failing inertia projects with more effective ones if they are to dent the growing burden of cancer linked to a combination of obesity and T2DM.
 
The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology study
 
A comparative risk assessment study published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology was carried out by researchers from Imperial College London, Kent University and the World Health Organization. It suggests that in 2012, 5.6% of all cancers worldwide were linked to the combined effect of obesity and diabetes, which corresponded to about 0.8m new cancer cases. 25% of these account for liver cancer in men, and 38% account for endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the womb in women.
 

Obesity T2DM and cancer
 
There is a close association between obesity and T2DM. The likelihood and severity of T2DM are closely linked with BMI. If you are obese your risk of T2DM is 7-times greater than someone with a healthy weight. If you are overweight your risk of T2DM is 3-times greater. Whilst it is known that the distribution of body fat is a significant determinant of increased risk of T2DM, the precise mechanism of association remains unclear. It is also uncertain why not all people who are obese develop T2DM and why not all people with T2DM are either overweight or obese. Also, the link between obesity and some cancers is well established. More recently, researchers have linked diabetes to several cancers, including liver, pancreatic and breast cancer. The 2018 Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology study described in this Commentary is the first time anyone has calculated the combined effect of excess BMI and T2DM on cancer worldwide.
 
Findings

According to the Lancet study’s findings, cancers diagnosed in 2012, which are linked to diabesity are almost twice as common in women (496,700 cases) as men (295,900 cases). The combination of excess BMI and T2DM risk factors in women accounts for the highest proportion of breast and endometrial cancer: about 30% and 38% respectively. In men, the combination accounts for the highest proportion of liver and colorectal cancers. Overall, the biggest proportion of cancers linked to diabesity is found in high income western nations, such as the UK (38.2% of 792,600 cancer cases diagnosed in 2012), followed by east and southeast Asia (24.1%). 16.4% of cases of cancer in men and 15% in women in high income western nations are linked to being overweight, compared to 2.7% and 3% respectively in south Asia. Researchers suggest that on current trends, the number of cancers linked to a combination of excess BMI and T2DM could increase by 30% by 2035, which would take the worldwide total of these cancers from 5.6% to 7.35%. 
Uneven prevalence of cancers resulting from diabesity

While cancers associated with diabesity are a relatively small percentage of the total - the global 5.6% masks wide national variations of cancer prevalence resulting from diabesity. For example, in high income western nations, such as the UK, 16% of cancers are linked to excess BMI and T2DM, which suggests a potentially significant trend. As known cancer risk factors such as smoking tobacco have declined in the UK and other wealthy nations, so diabesity has increased as a significant risk factor.
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According to Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard,of Imperial College London and lead author of the 2018 Lancet study, the prevalence of cancer linked to excess BMI and diabetes is, “particularly alarming when considering the high and increasing cost of cancer and metabolic diseases. As the prevalence of these cancer risk factors increases, clinical and public health efforts should focus on identifying optimal preventive and screening measures for whole populations and individual patients”.
 
Risks of cancer and their vast and escalating costs

Clinicians, public health officials and charities are mindful of the vast and escalating risks of excess BMI and T2DM on cancer. According to Diabetes UK, 4.5m people are living with diabetes in the UK, 90% of these have T2DM, and another 11.9m are at increased risk of T2DM. Research published in the May 2016 edition of the British Medical Journal reports that prevalent cases of T2DM in the UK more than doubled between 2000 and 2013: from 2.39% to 5.32%, while the number of incident cases increased more steadily.
 
According to a 2014 report by Public Health England entitled “Adult obesity and type-2 diabetes”, the direct annual economic cost of patient care for people living with T2DM in 2011 was £8.8bn; the indirect costs, such as lost production, were about £13bn, and prescribing for diabetes accounted for 9.3% of the total cost of prescribing in 2012-13. The Report concludes, “the rising prevalence of obesity in adults has led, and will continue to lead, to a rise in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes. This is likely to result in increased associated health complications and premature mortality . . . Modelled projections indicate that NHS and wider costs to society associated with overweight, obesity and type 2 diabetes will rise dramatically in the next few decades”.
 
Preventing excess BMI and T2DM as a way to reduce the burden of cancer

Because of the increasing prevalence of diabesity clinicians, healthcare providers and charities have invested substantially in programs to prevent obesity and T2DM. Notwithstanding, the UK’s record of reducing the burden of these disorders is poor. According to the authors of The Lancet study, “Population-based strategies to prevent diabetes and high BMI have great potential impact … but have so far often failed.” Despite an annual NHS spend of £14bn on diabetes care, and over £20m spent annually by Diabetes UK  on “managing diabetes, transforming care, prevention, understanding and support”, over the past 10 years people with diabetes have increased by 60%.
 
Healthier You a national diabetes prevention program

Healthier You, a joint venture between NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK was launched in 2016 and aims to deliver evidence-based behaviour change interventions at scale to people at high risk of T2DM to support them in reducing their risk. In December 2017, an interim analysis of the program’s performance was published in the journal Diabetic Medicine. Findings suggest that Healthier You has achieved higher than anticipated numbers of referrals: 49% as opposed to 40% projected, and the, “characteristics of attendees suggest that the programme is reaching those who are both at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and who typically access healthcare less effectively.”
 
Cautionary note
 
Notwithstanding, the study’s authors conclude with a cautionary note and say that when data become available from the 2019 National Diabetes Audit (NDA) they will be better positioned to assess the program’s performance. Specifically, whether Healthier You participants changed their weight and HbAc1 levels over time. (HbA1c is a blood test that indicates blood glucose levels and is the main way T2DM is diagnosed). We are mindful that earlier National UK Diabetes Audits suggest there are significant challenges associated with incomplete and inconsistent patient data at the primary care level, and also significant variation in diabetes care across the country. It seems reasonable to assume that incomplete and inconsistent data will present analytical challenges.
 
Outcomes as key performance indicators
 
Notwithstanding, the authors of the interim appraisal of Healthier You are right to attempt to link key performance indicators (KPI) with patient outcomes rather than provider activities, which tend to be the preferred performance indicators used by public officials, clinicians and charities engaged in preventing obesity and T2DM. At the population level, there is a dearth of data that associate specific prevention programs with the reduction of the prevalence of obesity and T2DM. Until actual patient outcomes become the key performance indicators, it seems reasonable to suggest that inertia rather than innovation in prevention and care of T2DM and obesity will prevail, and year-on-year the burden of diabesity and associated cancers will continue to increase.
 
Casalud

Two significant and effective innovations to reduce excess BMI and T2DM, which have been largely ignored by the UK’s diabetes establishment are the Casalud and Oklahoma City projects. Casalud is a nation-wide online continuing medical education program launched in Mexico in 2008, which has demonstrated influence on the quality of healthcare, and subsequent influence on patient knowledge, disease self-management, and disease biomarkers. Casalud provides mHealth tools and technical support systems to re-engineer how primary care is delivered in Seguro Popular (Mexico’s equivalent to NHS England) primary health clinics.  By focusing on prevention and using technology, Casalud has increased the number of diabetes screenings and improved clinical infrastructure. An appraisal of the program published in the October 2017 edition of Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity suggests that the Casalud program successfully impacts changes in obesity and T2DM self-management at the primary care level throughout the country.
 
Oklahoma city’s transformation

Oklahoma is a city of about 550,000 people. In 2007, it was dubbed America’s “fast food capital" and “fattest city". A decade later, the city was in the middle of a transformation. While the state still has among the highest adult obesity rates in the nation – climbing from 32.2% to 33.9% between 2012 and 2015 – obesity rates in Oklahoma City dropped from 31.8% to 29.5% during that time frame, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The city’s transformation started with city’s Mayor Mick Cornett. Cornett, who has been in office since 2004, brought notoriety to the city’s public health efforts beginning at the end of 2007 with the goal to collectively lose 1m pounds. The people of Oklahoma City met that goal in 2012, but have not slowed down their efforts. What began as a campaign to promote healthy eating and exercise became a citywide initiative to, "rebuild the built environment and to build the city around people instead of cars," Cornett says.
 
Underutilized data that detect early people at risk of T2DM
 
Findings of a study published in the May 2017 edition of Scientific Reports suggest an innovative way to improve early diagnosis of excess BMI and T2DM when the diseases are easier and less costly to treat, but so far these data are underutilised. The study reports that increasingly people are searching the Internet to assess their health and records of these activities represent an important source of data about population health and early detection of T2DM. The study based on data from the 2015 Digital Health Record produced by Push Doctor, a UK based online company, which has over 7,000 primary care clinicians available for online video consultations. According to the study, which is based on 61m Google searches and a survey of 1,013 adults, 1 in 5 people chose self-diagnosis online rather than a consultation with their primary care doctor. The study makes use of commercially available geodemographic datasets, which combine marketing records with a number of databases in order to extract T2DM candidate risk variables. It then compares temporal relationships with the search keywords used to describe early symptoms of the T2DM on Google. Researchers suggest that Google Trends can detect early signs of T2DM by monitoring combinations of keywords, associated with searches. Notwithstanding, the value of these data they are underutilized by clinicians, public health officials and charities engaged in reducing the risks of excess BMI and T2DM, which can lead to cancer.
 
Takeaways

Over the past decade, NHS England has spent more than £100bn on diabetes treatment alone, and Diabetes UK has spent some £200m on education and awareness programmes, yet diabetes in the UK has increased by 60%. 90% of diabetes cases are T2DM, which is closely linked to obesity. The combination of excess BMI and T2DM causes some 16% of all cancers in the UK. The burden of these diseases destroys the lives of millions and cost billions. It is imperative that this vast and escalating burden is dented. This will not be achieved if clinicians, public health officials and charities continue with ineffective inertia projects. They will need innovate and embrace best practice if they are to prevent and reduce the vast and escalating burden of excess BMI, T2DM and cancer.
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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.
 
Takeaways

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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2 years, 1 month ago
 
 
  • 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.
 
 Accountability
 
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. 

 
Takeaways
 
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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