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Impact story

MRC research influences NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme

1 Nov 2017

This case study forms part of our Investing for Impact report, looking at how MRC- funded research delivers impact. More can be found in the Investing for Impact section of our website.

The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme was launched in 2016, and will eventually cover 26 million people. As of November 2018, over 78,000 people have already taken up the programme. Two researchers funded through the MRC-led National Prevention Research Initiative have been influential in contributing to this important programme, demonstrating a compelling example of prevention research being translated into healthcare to improve human lives.

One in four adults in the UK is obese, significantly increasing their chance of developing many chronic diseases such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and certain cancers. Importantly, weight loss has been shown to improve health outcomes. Tackling obesity and thereby preventing the development of these chronic diseases is therefore a government-wide priority in the UK.

Whilst preventing obesity is important, there is also a need to identify and implement effective interventions to treat obesity and reduce the risk of conditions such as type-2 diabetes. Behavioural interventions to reduce energy intake and increase energy expenditure have a crucial role to play and are key targets for the prevention of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Professors Paul Aveyard and Susan Jebb at the University of Oxford have built an inter-disciplinary collaboration to develop and test various interventions to help people lose weight. Professor Aveyard addresses this problem from a behavioural medicine angle, while Professor Jebb has a background in nutrition science; together, they are looking at how biological, nutritional, psychological, and sociological knowledge can be used to prevent and treat obesity and related diseases. The focus of their research is to find effective wide scale interventions to deliver clinical and public health benefits.

In 2016, Professors Aveyard and Jebb published the results of a clinical trial, showing that a 30-second opportunistic intervention by GPs to people who were overweight and consulting about another problem was well-received and led to 40 percent taking meaningful action to lose weight.  In this trial, the action concerned was taking up a 12-week NHS-supported referral to a commercial weight management provider such as Slimming World. At the end of a year, the people who were offered a referral had lost 1.4kg more than the group who had been advised to lose weight but not offered support. This trial built on research that Professors Aveyard and Jebb had published previously.  This showed that these commercial weight loss programmes were effective among people motivated to seek help to lose weight. The new research points to ways in which these interventions can be embedded in routine clinical practice.  

Professors Aveyard and Jebb are actively involved in helping translate their research into policy and results from their research have helped shape local and national government policy related to the commissioning of weight management services. The 2016 trial of brief interventions has directly informed education for health professionals. Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners have jointly produced an education resource on delivering brief interventions and Professor Aveyard was an advisor to this project. In addition, both Professors Aveyard and Jebb are working with Public Health England to produce a more comprehensive guideline for managing obesity.

Today Professor Jebb is drawing on her experience in weight management trials to provide input to the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme as a member of the NHS Expert Reference Group. Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, is also a member of this group. Started in 2016, more than 185,000 people have already been referred to the programme from the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England. The programme, comprising diet, activity and weight management interventions has been taken up by over 78,000 of those referred to date. This programme is an important step in developing the capacity of health services to deliver preventative healthcare.

“Obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and many different types of cancer. Losing weight can therefore be one of the most effective ways to prevent these diseases from occurring. Our research helps identify practical interventions that clinicians can offer in their everyday practice to motivate and support people to lose weight. Funding through the NPRI scheme for our research has been invaluable, and we are really encouraged to see the impact this is having on policy and practice”- Professor Paul Aveyard

Award details: MR/J000515/1


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Cancer, Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Oral and Gastro
  • Locations: Oxford
  • Type: Impact story, Success story