It’s time to tackle lifestyle misinformation

People with diabetes can’t always tell fact from fiction. And with the internet awash with conflicting sources of information on diet, exercise and glycaemic control, it’s easy to see why. In the space of just two weeks, the Daily Express alone published or republished 17 clickbait headlines on diabetes, often misleading, and designed to appeal to readers’ fears about their health.

Here are a couple of them:

Of course, that’s not to understate the public health crisis currently facing the nation – a recent estimate by Diabetes UK suggested a record 12.3 million people are now at elevated risk of developing Type 2. But we urgently need to stem this flow of misinformation.

Even the broadsheets can be prone to misrepresenting scientific evidence. The Guardian, for example, ran in August with the headline “No healthy level of alcohol consumption, says major study”. That referred to a major mata-analysis of 694 studies to work out how common drinking was, and a further 592 that assessed the health risks, accounting for a total 28 million people and published in The Lancet.

The researchers found that for each extra drink consumed in a day, the harm increased, and that the lowest level of harm was zero drinks – the basis of the Guardian’s headline. It isn’t, however, that simple.

The study showed that 918 in 100,000 people who consume one drink a day can expect to experience an alcohol-related health issue. Yet 914 of those people will experience such a health issue no matter what, meaning only four in 100,000 do so as a direct result of consuming one drink a day(1). The study also did not account for other factors that may have been the actual cause of harm – drinkers are more likely be poorer and to smoke, for example.

Again, this is not to understate the risks; it’s beyond doubt that drinking is detrimental to health. The point, however, is that misleading headlines create a widespread lack of understanding what constitutes an achievable, healthy lifestyle – with significant implications for public health.

Many people are unaware, for example, that consuming carbs, not fats, is what typically leads to weight gain. Another common misconception is that Type 2 diabetes is a sign of having eaten too many sweets, rather than too much bread and pasta.

Peer support groups for diabetes can be tenuous in reliability too. A 2011 study of health social networks, published in the Journal of the American Medical Infomatics Association, found that only 50% were aligned with clinical practice recommendations (n=10).

Users of Changing Health’s programme for diabetes management, which combines evidence-based education on diabetes with behaviour change support, consistently tell us they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conflicting viewpoints on diet they had found online. Their GPs typically only have the time to hand them a stack of leaflets, and while the NHS website goes some way to helping, there’s more that could be done.

We must counter this deluge of misinformation by providing more people with clear, evidence-based guidance and support. If we don’t, there’s only one likely outcome: incidences of diabetes will continue to rise and with them, the strain on health economies across the nation.

1: New York Times, 28 August: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/upshot/alcohol-health-risks-study-worry.html

Boosting patients’ abilities could save the NHS millions

Knowledge and confidence are a potent mix. That much has been made clear this morning, as new research from the Health Foundation shows that if people with long-term conditions are better supported to manage them, a staggering 436,000 emergency hospital admissions and 690,000 A&E attendances could be avoided entirely.

The findings confirm the conclusion I reached with Professor Mike Trenell of Newcastle University in 2015: that when people know what to do and they feel they can do it, they can achieve incredible things. It was on that basis that we founded Changing Health, delivering behaviour change programmes for people with Type 2 diabetes.

Many people with Type 2 don’t know how to properly manage their condition. There’s a wealth of information to take in, with too much misinformation online, and GPs rarely have enough time to give their patients much further guidance than a stack of leaflets.

But if we could give everybody with Type 2 diabetes a comprehensive understanding of diet, exercise and how lifestyle impacts on the condition – and then empower them to act on that understanding – the implications for public health are enormous.

The Health Foundation report makes a number of recommendations on how to achieve this: primarily health coaching, peer support and greater access to apps. All have been shown to improve patients’ PAM (Patient Activation Measure) scores, which predict an individual’s engagement with their health and healthcare based on over 400 peer-reviewed studies.

Indeed, a trial of Changing Health’s programme in the North West London Collaboration of CCGsfound that personalised support for diabetes, including lifestyle coaching and digital education, results in a 10-point PAM increase – enough to boost patients’ score by one level (out of a total four).

According to the Health Foundation, if we can give just the lowest ability patients (level 1) the knowledge and the confidence to manage long-term conditions as well as those at level 2, we could prevent 504,000 A&E attendances, and 333,000 emergency admissions per year. That equates to 5% of all emergency attendances, and 6% of all emergency admissions in England each year.

On an individual level, we see this science in action every week as more people with Type 2 diabetes put their condition into remission. Once people know how, for example, complex carbohydrates affect their blood sugars, and they’re given a motivational boost on a regular basis, they’re often able to cut out the bread and the pasta – and begin reducing their HbA1c. It’s simply a matter of providing that support in the first place.

Fortunately, we’re seeing increasing recognition among healthcare providers that, as the Health Foundation points out, there’s a very broad spectrum of ability and confidence among people to manage long term conditions, and different approaches are needed accordingly. At the same time, technology is enabling the delivery of more personalised support for such conditions, improving patients’ self-efficacy in managing them and, as a result, living happier, healthier lives.

For Type 2 diabetes the outlook does, then, look promising. But diagnoses are still rising, and the clock is ticking. We must act fast.

Digital DPPs are turning the tide on prediabetes

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.

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.

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.

Reversing Type 2 diabetes – in 5 steps

Author Holly Hart, MSc, is a qualified Health Psychologist and one of Changing Health’s lifestyle coaches. This article is based on real life case studies, including two users who achieved Type 2 diabetes remission in 10 weeks between April to June, 2018.

People with Type 2 diabetes usually know they need to make a change, and they have the motivation to do so. But their self-efficacy – that is, their beliefs about their capabilities to succeed – is often low; they perceive significant barriers preventing them from sustaining a healthier lifestyle.

There are, however, some useful techniques to help people with diabetes overcome the barriers to change and translate their motivation into action. Here are a few recommendations from my experience supporting people to better manage their condition:

1) Letting people know that good food can be cheap

Many people think fresh, “healthy food” is more expensive (it doesn’t have to be!), while others may be hampered by a lack of social support – often key to success. Some may worry that eating as a family may require the entire family to change their diet, and some may have been disillusioned by a lack of success when trying to make lifestyle changes in the past.

2) Making education simple

People with diabetes report that one of their biggest barriers to making the changes they need to is a lack of access to education and information. Those who do receive guidance from their healthcare provider often tell us that there was too much to take in, too quickly, and they ended up with only a limited understanding of how their condition affects them. We tend to provide links to websites and tell people what to search for online instead, so they can learn at their own pace in their own time.

3) Showing that dieting doesn’t mean no food

A common misconception we find among people with diabetes is the idea that following a diet means cutting out your favourite food and getting up at 4am for an exercise class. In fact, the simplest lifestyle changes are typically the key to successful management or even remission of diabetes. The inspirational success stories you get to hear as a coach are testament to this approach, and communicating to patients that their lifestyle changes don’t need to be radical can transform their outcome expectations.

Debra, a Changing Health user who recently achieved remission in 10 weeks, did so by making only “little swaps”, like pasta for cauliflower rice, so a healthier diet didn’t feel like a chore to maintain. It’s also important to avoid warning people with diabetes about what will happen if they don’t make a change; research has shown this doesn’t work.

Instead, we find that listing the benefits of a healthier lifestyle can be much more effective, particularly those which impact the most on everyday life: improved cognition and memory, better concentration, reduced tiredness and feeling less out of breath when walking the dog or taking the children to the park. focusing on past successes (identifying and emphasising previous, successful attempts to initiate lifestyle change) has been linked to optimal care consultations and better clinical outcomes.

Pairing this with discussions about how to overcome barriers that have occurred in the past, or might come up in the future, enables the patient to think more positively about making a change and this positivity is key.

4) Setting achievable goals from the outset

Healthcare providers can also support patients on their journey towards a healthier lifestyle by encouraging them to set clear short, medium and long-term goals. SMART goals – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – keep patients focussed every step of the way and have been proven to be effective in improving outcomes.

If patients write these goals down, the chances of success are even higher – up to 42%, according to new research. Changing Health coaches suggest users write down their progress so far on post-it notes and leave them in prominent places around the house, boosting their motivation to keep going when times are tough.

5) Personalising the approach to support

Every individual is at a different stage in their behaviour change journey and so it’s important to take their unique circumstances into account. Ultimately, it’s about re-framing the conversation to focus on their own possibilities of success, rather than the consequences of failure, at every point of contact.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt, though, is that while people with diabetes don’t often realise that transforming their health can be a straightforward process – once they do, they’re bound to surprise you.

Watch Sheinaz, a GP Practice Manager who achieved diabetes remission with Changing Health, tell the story of her weight loss journey in NHS Digital’s short film here: https://bit.ly/2v67fvR

Reversing Type 2 diabetes: one year on

In July 2017, Tina C, a Fire Prevention Officer from Northamptonshire, achieved something incredible. She had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years earlier and needed medications to keep her blood sugars in check day by day. She was feeling lost, was struggling to keep a check on her diet, and things were getting worse.

Then came the call from the BBC. A second series of the hit documentary How to Stay Young was on the cards, and Tina had been selected to participate. If she was up for it, she would embark on a strict, 12-week diet and exercise plan supervised by Changing Health’s Professor Mike Trenell, with the aim of reducing her “real body age”. She would undergo extensive testing at four, eight and twelve weeks to assess everything from her weight and blood glucose levels to quality of sleep and cognitive function.

Tina accepted. The diet took some serious willpower; calories were reduced to just 800 per day, with each meal logged in the Changing Health app alongside Tina’s daily physical activity levels for her lifestyle coach to feed back on. It was a dramatic shift from Tina’s normal habits, but she kept it up.

Fast-forward 12 challenging weeks, and there was big news. Watched by millions across the UK on BBC1, Professor Trenell gave Tina the results from her final round of tests. Had she walked in and there and then, Professor Trenell told her, he wouldn’t say she has diabetes. He’d say she haddiabetes.

She was gobsmacked. She had taken control of her health and transformed her life. And a year on, she’s kept it up. “It’s been a difficult year with some big challenges,” she says. “Sometimes your mind gets unfocussed, you end up comfort eating – in April I lost my way. It was the first time I’d felt like that, and it disappointed me.

“But then, 6-8 weeks ago, something reclicked; I’ve gone back to being strict with myself, logging my foods and exercise in the Changing Health app and re-reading the learning content. It’s really important to have the facts, because when you do you realise you’re in control. I reminded myself that my health is something I can change. It is possible.”

Perhaps the most drastic change in Tina’s lifestyle over the past year has been her meal choices. “I used to just load up on carbs, thinking they would fill me up – not realising that carbs actually turn to sugar in your blood! Now I’m eating a lot of vegan meals and plant-based foods… and sugar-free baking has changed my life! I use a lot a cacao in my cake recipes; it’s just a matter of getting your taste buds used to it.

“The recipes in the Changing Health app have been really useful too. All kinds of foods I didn’t even know about have become staples… Chia seeds, for one, have become a massive part of my life. I have to think of unhealthy foods as evil. I’ll allow myself a treat on very special occasions, for example I baked a normal cake for a 40th birthday, and I’m going to have a slice!

“I make sure that on 6 days a week I’m brilliant, so on the 7th day I can have a glass of wine or something a little naughty! My strategy is to picture my own long-term health. I keep a couple of pics on my phone of how I was before, just to remind myself.”

There’s no doubt that Tina’s husband’s support has been invaluable too; together they’re quite the team. “He gave up six months of his life to lose weight with me and support me through completely changing my diet and starting a regular exercise routine and if he can do it, I can too. I was having a tough time in April, and without him, I would’ve self-destructed. But now I feel so much better. You just feel more positive when your diet is good and when I’m healthy I get through things. I feel really different in how organised I am – literally just ticking things off my to-do list all day!”

“We’ve got two businesses that I help out with; and we always look for different solutions to get the energy we need for a long day without eating sugar. Planning is very important. I’m back down to 1000 calories temporarily so this morning, for example, I had chia seeds and soya milk, for lunch it was chickpea falafels and a green salad, and this evening we’ll have chicken fajitas without the wraps.”

“Having the Changing Health app on hand is like having a little buddy in my pocket. When my husband isn’t there, it’s a constant reminder: what have I eaten this week? It’s engaging, nice to look at and the content is easy to understand.”

“Ultimately, the power’s in your hands to change your health. I still can’t get my head around how I made that difference and changed my life. It’s not expensive, it’s not a lot of work, it’s just you and your mindset. If somebody gave you that chance, if somebody told you could do it – why wouldn’t you?”

Watch Tina’s moving account of her experience reversing Type 2 diabetes at www.changinghealth.com/cs2

Sleep and diabetes: 7 easy steps for a better night’s rest

Sleep duration and quality are now widely accepted as important factors in the prevention and management of mental health7, cardiovascular,and metabolic conditions including type 2 diabetes1.

Normal sleep is characterised by reduced consciousness, little or no nervous activity and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles1. Sleeping for too long, or not enough, poses potential risks of obesity and Type 2 diabetes; optimum sleep should be seven to eight hours each night. There is a 9% relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes for each hour of shorter sleep, and a relative risk of 14% for each hour of longer sleep4.

So do people with Type 2 diabetes get the right amount? Taking a generalised view from available research, the simple answer would be: absolutely not. Sleep impairment is more common in females, but is prevalent among both genders7.

Reasons for this include:

  1. Lifestyle choices: excessive drinking, smoking, inactivity
  2. Societal/economic pressures: Shift work, unemployment, etc5.
  3. Associated medical conditions: Fatigue, depression, neuropathic pain and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) 5
  4. Circadian mal-alignment: Some people are either morning types (they find it relatively easy to get up early in the morning but also go to bed early) or evening types (they go to bed later and find it difficult with early starts). However, evening types are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to morning types3

 

Here are 7 easy steps to better sleep with Type 2 diabetes:

  1. Get a sleep assist device, like a CPAP (continuous positive airwave pressure) on recommendation from your GP. This can help in reducing blood pressure and HbA1C levels2
  2. Exercise more. If you have problems keeping up with being active due to other associated conditions, speak to a medical professional
  3. Master your body and consult a dietician or nutritionist to help guide you through food choices and meal times that match your body clock.
  4. Speak to your employers about your condition and try to work out productive working times that would not impact on your health negatively.
  5. Stick to a sleep schedule as this can help regulate your body clock. There are medications like exogenous melatonin that help in the management of circadian rhythm disorders6. Speak to a sleep specialist if you have problems sticking to a particular bedtime.
  6. A bed time ritual like mediation could be the key to good sleep
  7. Ensure you sleep in a comfortable room (with appropriate bed, pillows and mattress) devoid of distractions.

References

  1. Brady, E. M. and Hall, A. P. (2016) ‘Sleep and type 2 diabetes mellitus’, Practical Diabetes, 33(1), pp. 23–26. doi: 10.1002/pdi.1993.
  2. Guest, J. F., Panca, M., Sladkevicius, E., Taheri, S. and Stradling, J. (2014) ‘Clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness of continuous positive airway pressure to manage obstructive sleep apnea in patients with type 2 diabetes in the U.K.’, Diabetes Care, 37(5), pp. 1263–1271. doi: 10.2337/dc13-2539.
  3. Merikanto, I., Lahti, T., Puolijoki, H., Vanhala, M., Peltonen, M., Laatikainen, T., Vartiainen, E., Salomaa, V., Kronholm, E. and Partonen, T. (2013) ‘Associations of chronotype and sleep with cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes’, Chronobiology International, 30(4), pp. 470–477. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2012.741171.
  4. Shan, Z., Ma, H., Xie, M., Yan, P., Guo, Y., Bao, W., Rong, Y., Jackson, C. L., Hu, F. B. and Liu, L. (2015) ‘Sleep duration and risk of type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis of prospective studies’, Diabetes Care, 38(3), pp. 529–537. doi: 10.2337/dc14-2073.
  5. Vetter, C., Devore, E. E., Ramin, C. A., Speizer, F. E., Willett, W. C. and Schernhammer, E. S. (2015) ‘Mismatch of sleep and work timing and risk of type 2 diabetes’, Diabetes Care, 38(9), pp. 1707–1713. doi: 10.2337/dc15-0302.
  6. Wilson, S., Nutt, D., Alford, C., Argyropoulos, S., Baldwin, D., Bateson, A., Britton, T., Crowe, C., Dijk, D.-J., Espie, C., Gringras, P., Hajak, G., Idzikowski, C., Krystal, A., Nash, J., Selsick, H., Sharpley, A. and Wade, A. (2010) ‘British Association for Psychopharmacology consensus statement on evidence-based treatment of insomnia, parasomnias and circadian rhythm disorders’, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 24(11), pp. 1577–1601. doi: 10.1177/0269881110379307.
  7. Zhu, B., Quinn, L. and Fritschi, C. (2017) ‘Relationship and variation of diabetes related symptoms, sleep disturbance and sleep-related impairment in adults with type 2 diabetes’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, (October), pp. 689–697. doi: 10.1111/jan.13482.
  8. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips