Programs that get people to eat more healthily and increase their physical activity really can help reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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A new review finds that diet and exercise programs can help people reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Diet and exercise programs are cost-effective, help restore blood sugar to normal levels and reduce a number of other diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk factors, including being overweight and having high blood pressure and cholesterol.

These were the conclusions the Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) came to after overseeing a review of published evidence on whether diet and physical activity programs really help prevent or control type 2 diabetes.

The review - which covers the clinical and economic effectiveness of such programs - was conducted by panels of government, academic, policy and practice-based scientists, who report their findings in a cluster of studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

As a result of the review - which provides "strong evidence of effectiveness" both in terms of clinical results and value for money - the CPSTF recommend combined diet and physical activity programs for people at increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The task force define being at risk for type 2 diabetes as having abnormally high levels of blood glucose but not high enough to be classed as type 2 diabetes. Classification can also be assessed using other validated predictive risk scores, they note.

Effective programs for reducing type 2 diabetes risk

The CPSTF say effective programs that promote diet changes and increased physical activity to reduce risk for type 2 diabetes have a number of elements, including:

  • Trainers who work directly with participants in clinics and communities for at least 3 months
  • Counseling, coaching and extended support
  • Several taught sessions on how to change diet, increase physical activity
  • Sessions delivered in person or via email or online, or all of these

Altogether, the reviewers examined 53 studies evaluating a total of 66 programs. 30 of the studies compared diet and physical activity programs against usual care, 12 compared intensive versus less intensive programs, and 13 reviewed single programs.

They found that compared with usual care, nearly all the diet and physical activity programs reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes, decreased body weight and fasting blood glucose, and improved other risk factors (such as blood pressure and cholesterol).

The reviewers also found that more intensive programs (for instance those that delivered more sessions, or gave more personal attention, or had more staff) were more effective. They led to greater weight loss and lower rates of diabetes than less intensive programs.

Millions of Americans 'do not know they have diabetes'

Diabetes is a disease where there is too much glucose in the blood. This can be either because the body cannot produce the insulin that helps convert the glucose into energy for cells (type 1 diabetes) or because the body develops resistance to insulin (type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease).

If diabetes goes untreated, high glucose levels build up in the blood and instead of going into cells to produce energy, it leads to short-term and long-term problems. In the short term, cells get starved of energy.

In the longer term, too much glucose in the blood affects the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. If untreated, it leads to serious health complications, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 9.3% of Americans (29.1 million) have diabetes, 28% of whom (8.1 million) don't know they have it, while 86 million have prediabetes, but only 11% know they have it.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the US, where estimates show it cost the American economy some $245 billion in 2012.

Many people with diabetes have to control their blood sugar by regularly pricking their finger and injecting themselves with insulin. The procedure is painful and risky - injecting the wrong amount of insulin can lead to serious complications, and in some cases, coma and death.

However, Medical News Today recently learned how researchers are working on a smart insulin patch that could one day make such an ordeal a thing of the past.