With a record 12.7 million people at elevated risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the UK, the need to help people change their lifestyles en masse has never been more acute.

Patients already diagnosed with Type 2 are typically very aware of the need to move more and eat more healthily, but struggle to translate their intention to change into sustained action. People with prediabetes, on the other hand, can be more difficult for healthcare professionals to engage with a behaviour change intervention.

Their perception of risk is generally lower; the lack of any physical symptoms leads some to question whether they actually have a health issue and whether changes are required at all.

What Do The Studies Say About Prediabetes

According to one study, people with prediabetes consistently underestimate their probability of developing Type 2; 84% considered themselves at low, very low or negligible risk. Indeed, many people with prediabetes only find out about their condition when they visit a GP with an unrelated issue, rather than on a regular check-up for diabetes as the NHS recommends.

Others are hindered by outcome expectancies. They recognise the need to change, but feel any attempt will be hopeless and so accept that they will simply remain in their current habits and that developing the condition is an inevitability. As food is perceived as a necessity for life, low outcome expectations can be further compounded by feelings of frustration and deprivation when healthcare professionals advise making changes to a dietary intake.

Digital DPPs Accept The Challenge

But digital DPPs, often dubbed “Prevention 2.0”, are addressing these challenges. By making support available on a smartphone or tablet, anytime and anywhere, digital DPPs are reducing the “hassle factor”, leading to significantly higher uptake; one digital trial in London’s Waltham Forest, for example, saw a 500% increase in just 14 days.

When a user can work through a DPP in their own home, in their own time, completion rates are much higher too, improving on users’ understanding of how prediabetes affects their health and increasing users’ risk perception of more serious health issues in the future if they don’t act on their healthcare provider’s recommendations.

Trials in behavioural economics have shown that when a complex goal, such eating more healthily, is broken down into a series of easier actions (eg eating five a day), outcome expectancies can be significantly improved. On a digital DPP, participants can set their own clear, achievable short-term goals and can refer back to them on their phone at any time, boosting motivation to sustain a healthier lifestyle over the long term.

Instant, one-click referral systems also reduce wait times between referral and access to just minutes – as opposed to weeks or sometimes months for a face-to-face DPP – minimising drop-offs as people become demotivated over time without support.

Digital DPPs therefore show serious promise in improving access to support – among even the hardest to reach groups – and overcoming the psychological barriers to sustaining lifestyle changes for people with prediabetes. As the NHS scales access to such programmes across the UK, turning the tide on diabetes has never seemed more possible.

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