The health of people with learning disabilities ‘urgently’ need to be targeted in a Type 2 diabetes prevention drive, Leicestershire researchers have said.
In a recent study of 930 adults from across the county with learning disabilities a high proportion, more than two-thirds (68 per cent), were discovered to be overweight or obese, putting them at risk of developing diabetes in the future.
The research team, from the Leicester Diabetes Centre, wanted to find out whether people with learning disabilities could be at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. A further aim was to develop a lifestyle programme to help people with learning disabilities stay healthy.
Although the findings showed low numbers of undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes among the people they screened, the research did identify other worrying issues.
Professor Kamlesh Khunti, who is Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester, and led the STOP Diabetes study, said: “The information we received from the participants (and carers) is that only 30 per cent of them are eating the recommended five or more daily portions of fruit, vegetables or salad.
“We also discovered a distinct lack of exercise being carried out with around half of the study participants spending most of the day, or even all of it, sitting down. We already know that being sedentary hugely increases a person’s chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. These findings have only emphasised the urgent need for targeted lifestyle prevention strategies, which are specifically tailored for the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.”
Obesity and sedentary behaviour are both major modifiable risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and continue to be the focus of diabetes prevention initiatives.
University of Leicester researcher Dr Alison Dunkley, who also worked on the STOP Diabetes study added: “People with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from research involvement, despite experiencing significant health inequalities.
“The STOP Diabetes research study is the first large diabetes screening study involving people with intellectual disabilities in the UK and, to our knowledge, possibly globally. Our multi-disciplinary team of researchers and learning disability healthcare professionals worked closely with service users (and carers) to involve them in the study.”
According to NHS England there are currently five million people in England at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. If these numbers persist, one in three people will be obese by 2034 and one in 10 will develop Type 2 diabetes. However, evidence shows that many cases of Type 2 diabetes are preventable.
The Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (NHS DPP) began in Leicestershire last year and uses a specially developed at risk calculator which was developed by LDC to determine whether someone needs to be referred onto the initiative. However, there is no clear guidance within the programme on how to target people with learning (intellectual) disabilities.
The STOP Diabetes research project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (Programme Grant for Applied Research - RP-PG-1209-10057) and involved a collaboration between the University of Leicester (PI: Professor Kamlesh Khunti) and Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust: (PI: Professor Bhaumik).