An ultra low-calorie diet that can reverse type 2 diabetes is to form part of a pilot run by the NHS in England.
The 800-calorie a day diet using liquid meals and shakes will be prescribed for three months, initially to 5,000 people, and follow-up support given.
Nine out of 10 people with diabetes in the UK have type 2, which is strongly linked to diet and lifestyle.
An NHS England programme to prevent people developing type 2 diabetes is also being expanded.
A trial at the end of last year of the very low-calorie diet has helped almost half of those involved to reverse the condition.
It is now set to be rolled out more widely to judge whether this success can be replicated in a broader population.
Prof Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity for NHS England, acknowledges the diet is undoubtedly challenging and it does not suit everyone.
“But we think it is worth exploring the implementation of these programmes within the NHS so that those who could benefit, can benefit,” he said.
While type 2 diabetes can have a genetic component, it is strongly linked to being overweight or obese.
About two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are currently overweight or obese, which is driving up rates of the condition.
Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that is not linked with being overweight or inactive.
What is type 2 diabetes?
- It is a common condition that causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood to become too high
- It is caused by problems with a chemical in the body (hormone) called insulin
- Type 2 diabetes can cause symptoms such as excessive thirst, needing to pee a lot and tiredness
- It can also increase the risk of getting serious problems with the eyes, heart and nerves
A type 2 diabetes prevention programme has been running in England for the past three years and has seen encouraging results.
So far, more than 250,000 people who were on the cusp of developing type 2 diabetes have been referred to classes which offer advice and support on food, diet and exercise.
On average, participants have each lost 8lb (3.6kg) in weight, greatly reducing their risk of becoming diabetic.
Now the programme is also set to undergo a significant expansion, helping 200,000 people a year.
Prof Valabhji says it is important the programme continues to show results.
“Of course what counts at the end of the day is whether we are preventing type 2 diabetes from arising.
“We’ve got an independent evaluation of the programme that will look at, firstly, whether we’ve prevented diabetes in the individuals participating in the programme.
“But secondly, we have the means to look at whether the programme has impacted positively in the overall rate of type 2 diabetes development in the whole population.”
Chris Askew, chief executive of charity Diabetes UK, said plans to double the size of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme were “excellent news”.
“The ambition being shown by the NHS needs to be matched across all government policy – we need stronger action on marketing to children, and clearer nutritional labelling to support people to make healthy choices,” he said.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “What’s good for our waistlines is also good for our wallets, given the huge costs to all of us as taxpayers from these largely preventable illnesses.”
But he said the NHS could not wage that battle on its own.
“The NHS pound will go further if the food industry also takes action to cut junk calories and added sugar and salt from processed food, TV suppers and fast-food takeaways,” Mr Stevens said.
The announcements come ahead of what is known as the Forward Plan for the NHS in England, in which measures that prevent ill health in the first place are expected to be heavily emphasised.