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Nonpharmacological interventions for the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus


During the past decade, improved understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms of diabetes development has resulted in advances in therapeutic concepts, but has also supported the potential for diabetes prevention through nonpharmacological means. At the beginning of the century, we experienced a shift in paradigm, as landmark studies have shown that diabetes mellitus is preventable with lifestyle intervention; moderate changes in diet and physical activity produce a substantial and sustained reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) for individuals with impaired glucose tolerance. This evidence must now be translated into clinical and public-health practice, but translational studies have varied in their ability to replicate the results of clinical trials. This variation reflects a number of challenging barriers for diabetes prevention in real-world clinical practice, which makes it necessary to focus on identifying efficient intervention methods and delivery mechanisms. Research is now focusing on these mechanisms, as well as on developing efficient screening and risk-identification strategies and realistic scenarios for public-health policy to implement diabetes prevention programs. In this Review, we will discuss these mechanisms and will consider the implications of diabetes prevention for public-health strategy and policy.

Key Points

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a highly preventable disease; however, prevention programs need to systematically identify people at high risk and address the pathophysiological, behavioural and public-health determinants of diabetes development

  • Evidence-based recommendations for clinical practice are available and provide a solid basis for the development and implemention of T2DM prevention programs

  • Increased physical activity and a healthy diet (high fibre, low saturated fat, appropriate energy intake), ideally resulting in weight loss, are important and effective interventions that can prevent the development of T2DM

  • To identify individuals at increased risk of T2DM, a multi-stage approach is recommended, starting with a noninvasive risk score, followed by a diagnostic test to confirm glycaemic status if necessary

  • Implementing evidence-based strategies to initiate and support behaviour change should help to achieve sustained lifestyle changes in preventive intervention programs

  • Population-based implementation of primary diabetes prevention programs requires active partnerships across all different levels of public health, including local and national government and community-level organisations and services

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Figure 1: Dose-response effects of lifestyle behaviour change on diabetes incidence (at a median 7 years) in people with impaired glucose tolerance.
Figure 2: Four-level public-health model for the implementation of effective diabetes prevention programs.


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The authors contributed equally to all aspects of this article.

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Correspondence to Peter E. Schwarz.

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Competing interests

P. E. Schwarz declares associations with the following companies: AstraZeneca (speaker); Bayer (speaker, consultant, grant/research support); Bristol-Myers Squibb (speaker); GlaxoSmithKline (speaker); Eli Lilly (speaker, consultant); Merck (speaker); MSD (speaker); Novartis (speaker, consultant); Novo Nordisk (speaker, grant/research support); Sanofi (speaker). Moreover, P. E. Schwarz was the main partner of the European funded project IMAGE (Development and Implementation of a European Guideline and Training Standards for Diabetes Prevention), a multi-professional initiative to develop practice recommendations for diabetes prevention practice. C. J. Greaves declares associations with the following companies: Eli Lilly (consultant); GlaxoSmithKline (grant/research support); Novartis (speaker). M J. Davies declares associations with the following companies: Eli Lilly (consultant, speaker, grant/research support); GlaxoSmithKline (consultant, speaker, grant/research support); Novartis (consultant, speaker, grant/research support); Novo Nordisk (consultant, speaker, grant/research support); MSD (consultant, speaker, grant/research support); Pfizer (grant/research support); Roche (consultant, speaker); Sanofi-Aventis (consultant, speaker, grant/research support); Servier (speaker, grant/research support). The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Schwarz, P., Greaves, C., Lindström, J. et al. Nonpharmacological interventions for the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nat Rev Endocrinol 8, 363–373 (2012).

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