People joining the health service’s diabetes prevention programme are heavier now compared to before the pandemic
The research shows that people asking the NHS for help with losing weight are on average 2.27kg heavier than those who started the programme before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The weight gain is most significant among people under the age of 40 who are enrolling on the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP). This group is, on average, around 3.6kg heavier than people who enrolled in the programme in the three years prior to the public health crisis.
It comes after a survey by Public Health England published in July found that more than 40 per cent of adults in England put on an average of half a stone (approximately 3.17kg) during the pandemic, with 21 per cent gaining a stone or more.
The new study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, warned that the findings could lead to serious repercussions for the health service. It is estimated that gaining just one kilogram can increase the risk of developing diabetes by around eight per cent.
NHS national clinical director for diabetes and obesity, Professor Jonathan Valabhji, who produced the findings, said: “The pandemic has changed every part of our lives and taken a toll on mind and body, with thousands of people paying a heavy price, and many gaining weight during lockdown.”
He said an increase in weight means an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is associated with many common types of cancer, blindness, amputations as well as heart attacks and strokes.
He added: “As we return to normal life, there has never been a better time to make small changes to improve our health, our NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme can help people do just that.”
According to figures from NHS England, 405,000 people have been helped by the programme since it was established in 2016. The latest data shows those completing it typically achieve an average weight loss of 3.3kg, and 3.6kg for those who are overweight or obese, significantly reducing their risk of type 2 diabetes.
The programme lasts between nine and 12 months, and is designed to stop or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes through advice and support on healthier eating, weight management and physical exercise.
Access to the DPP was fast-tracked following research which showed that people are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 if they have the condition.
Dan Howarth, head of care at Diabetes UK, said: “Type 2 diabetes is a complex condition with multiple risk factors that include age, family history and ethnicity.
“Living with obesity is the single greatest risk factor, and accounts for 80-85% of someone’s risk of developing the condition.
“This study suggests that during the pandemic there may have been an increase in the body weight of people at high risk of type 2 diabetes.
“This is concerning as it could lead to rates of the condition rising more steeply down the line. The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme plays a pivotal role in supporting those at risk and, as many people have found it harder to manage their weight during the pandemic, it has never been more vital.”
Additional reporting by PA