Refer NHS patients to Weight Watchers, study suggests

GPs should send patients who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes to Weight Watchers, a new study suggests.

Researchers found more than half of those referred curbed their risk of going on to suffer from the potentially deadly condition. 

Some 38 per cent of the patients, who had pre-diabetes – a risk factor the full-blown condition, returned to normal blood sugar levels after a year.

Patients sent on the commercial programme also recorded weight loss of 22lbs (10kg) after just a year on average – which keeps type 2 diabetes at bay.

Pre-diabetes is where blood sugar levels are above the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed as having the condition.

Some 38 per cent of the patients, who had pre-diabetes – a risk factor the full-blown condition, returned to normal blood sugar levels after a year of Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers paid for publication of the research, which was released in the BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care.

Experts have welcomed the latest findings, describing the results as ‘positive’ and ‘encouraging’. 

How was the study carried out? 

The new study, led by Westminster University and Bromley Council saw participants recruited through 14 GP practices in the London borough.

Patients with a BMI of over 30 – signifying that they are clinically obese – who had non-diabetic hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, were invited to take part.

They were offered a book in for the programme with Weight Watchers which included a 90 minute ‘activation session’ followed by 48 weekly group meetings.

What did they find? 

Of the 117 patients who took part in the study, 38 per cent had returned to normal blood sugar levels after a year.


Worldwide, there are believed to be around 380 million sufferers. In Britain this has topped 3.8 million, a figure that continues to rise.

The World Health Organization issued a warning to say the world is facing ‘a growing diabetes epidemic of potentially devastating proportions’ in 2004.

Since 1996, the number of people living with diabetes has more than doubled. The rapid escalation remains of great concern to health bodies.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by having too much glucose in the blood because the body’s way of turning it into energy is not working properly.

As the condition progresses, sufferers often need to maintain a healthy diet, exercise and a combination of medications to manage it.

Controlling blood sugar levels are also considered to be the key to reducing the risk of life-changing complications for those already diagnosed.

Someone’s life expectancy with type 2 diabetes is likely to be reduced as a result of the condition, by up to 10 years, it is believed. 

A further 15 per cent had reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by reducing their blood glucose. Just 3 per cent had gone on to develop the condition. 

At 12 months, 54 per cent of patients achieved a greater than a 7 per cent reduction in body weight, the researchers found.

What did the researchers say? 

Lead author Carolyn Piper, public health manager for the London Borough of Bromley, said: ‘A new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is made every two minutes in the UK with the risk of developing the disease significantly influenced by our lifestyles. 

‘It’s within our power to reverse the ever increasing tide of type 2 diabetes with the right education and support.’

Co-author Zoe Griffiths, head of programme and public health at Weight Watchers UK, added: ‘We’d welcome the opportunity to work with Public Health England as part of the Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme rollout.

‘Close to 80 per cent of eligible patients who were offered the Weight Watchers diabetes prevention programme engaged, illustrating the significant scale that could be achieved by working together.’

What do experts think? 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said the findings are ‘both positive and encouraging’.

Emily Burns, interim head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: ‘It’s really important we help people lower their risk of type 2 diabetes.

‘We know that diabetes prevention programmes, which support people to make lifestyle changes, can work.

‘But more research is needed to work out how to apply this in a real world setting and make the risk of type 2 diabetes as low as possible for everyone.’