Science - November 3, 2011

Exercise and diet reverse diabetes

People in the preliminary stages of diabetes run 10 to 20 times the risk of developing full-blown diabetes.

People seem to revert their old unhealthy eating habits
A Maastricht-Wageningen team researched whether a healthier lifestyle could prevent type two diabetes. In a project called SLIM, the team followed 147 people with prediabetes over a period of six years. Half the subjects were put in the control group while the other half adapted their lifestyle. ‘They went to a dietician once per quarter, for example', says researcher Edith Feskens. ‘As well as that, they were allowed to work out twice a week free of charge, under supervision.'
‘The results were very nice', says Feskens. In the control group 41 out of 73 people developed diabetes, whereas in the intervention group the figure was only 22 out of 74. The question remains of course whether this only postpones the diabetes or prevents it altogether. ‘We are going to investigate that further', says Feskens. ‘If you look at other studies, then you see less diabetes ten years after interventions too.'
It does appear that people fall back into their old unhealthy behaviour. The results are published this month in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Prevention is out
In spite of the proven link, things do not look good for the treatment method researched. Prevention is ‘out' in The Hague. Minister Schippers of Public Health has removed consultations with a dietician from the basic health insurance coverage. Feskens is disappointed in this short-term thinking, but remains convinced of her approach. ‘Once the financial crisis has passed, administrators will look at the statistics on aging and overweight and they will see that this is cheaper', says Feskens. What she especially wants to find out now is whether prevention also works in day-to-day practice. SLIMMER will be launched soon: a study in which GPs in Apeldoorn will prescribe the treatment for average risk patients.
Lower classes
Feskens' results also show that the lower social classes benefit the least from the preventive approach. In the course of the treatment they dropped out noticeably often. They are also more often overweight and their glucose level is often disturbed: the two symptoms of (pre)diabetes. ‘People from the lower classes more often have financial problems, and are more focused on the short term', says Feskens. And their peers live and eat less healthily, which has a negative impact on their motivation. ‘A wholemeal sandwich stands out rather if your brothers and sisters are breakfasting on pizza and coke.'