Type 2 Diabetes: small changes = big difference

5 min


Improving health and fitness

The Healthier Devon programme is showing that small lifestyle improvements can make a big difference for people who’re at risk of Type 2 Diabetes.  

People at high risk of the condition, who make small changes in their everyday habits, for up to two years, are much less likely to develop the disease, according to a project run by the Devon charity Westbank Community Health and Care.

Westbank’s Healthier Devon Diabetes Prevention Programme supports adults aged between 18 and 90 who want to improve their overall health and fitness. 

Facilitator Charlotte delivers a face-to-face session.
Facilitator Charlotte delivers a face-to-face session.

It helps patients who’ve been referred by a GP, or a clinician, because they are at high risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Individuals can also self-refer. 

Nearly four million people in the UK have Type 2 Diabetes. It’s a serious condition which happens when the insulin produced by your pancreas can’t work properly (or your pancreas fails to produce enough insulin). 

This means your blood glucose (sugar) levels keep rising. Without treatment, these high sugar levels can lead to serious complications, including damage to the eyes, heart and feet. 

People who eat unhealthily, who’re overweight, or inactive, have a much greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. 

By changing their dietary and exercise habits and maintaining a healthier lifestyle by managing issues like stress or anxiety, Healthier Devon has shown the onset of Type 2 can be prevented – with knock-on benefits for the NHS.

Participants enjoying the sunshine at the Green Gym, Bideford.
Participants enjoying the sunshine at the Green Gym, Bideford.

Participants have reported feeling healthier, eating better, enjoying being more active, weight loss, improved mood, better sleep and feeling more informed about the choices they make.

Paul from Torridge says participating in the course has given him a new lease of life. He has lost 8.2 kg in weight and has seen his cholesterol levels drop. Paul also noticed his waist size reduced by 2 centimeters.

Positive changes

‘I’ve noticed a big improvement in my physical and mental wellbeing,’ says Paul. ‘I found the course well-structured and subtle, with a mix of self-learning and conversation rather than dogmatic teaching. This worked well for me.’ 

‘I began to feel I was regaining control over my body, which I had unknowingly neglected. As I gained more knowledge, I made informed decisions about what I ate. I feel fitter, healthier and more my old self.’

Helen from Mid Devon has struggled with her weight all her life and had very bad habits when it came to food and exercise. 

When Helen joined the programme, she weighed 15 stone and wore a size 20. She now weighs 11.5 stone and is a size 12/14. She says she feels loads better and has more energy. Helen has also reduced her blood sugar levels and is no longer prediabetic. 

‘Since joining the Diabetes Prevention Programme, my attitude has changed,’ explains Helen. ‘I now think about what I eat and how much exercise. For example, I used to minimise the number of times I went up and down the stairs at work, but now I don’t.’ 

‘I make lunches on weekdays and keep them in the fridge at home so that I have to walk home at lunchtime. I have learnt so much about what foods to eat and was surprised that many low-fat foods I used to eat weren’t good for me!’ 

‘I have been cycling regularly, even through the winter, and now cycle between 40 and 100 miles a week depending on the weather. I could not have lost the weight and got healthier if it weren’t for the knowledge and support from the programme.’

More than 2,000 people have been registered on the Healthier Devon course since November 2018. 

Healthier Devon

A team of wellbeing facilitators offer two years of guidance and support through a variety of means, including regular online or telephone sessions and peer activities. 

Before the COVID lockdowns, the sessions were mostly delivered face-to-face but the new delivery methods have proved to be just as effective in helping people to achieve their health and fitness goals.

‘We offer a behaviour change process that works,’ says Stuart Lord, Lead Wellbeing Facilitator.

‘Everyone is different and our approach with each person is different. Modern living, ageing and also misconceptions about what’s healthy can lead to being at risk, even if people are not overweight.’ 

‘We offer advice and support to encourage people to review habits, eat more healthily, increase their physical activity generally and address mental health issues like stress and anxiety.’ 

‘It’s finding what works for them. Small changes can make a huge difference to people’s health and happiness and, ultimately, stop them getting Type 2 Diabetes and all that entails.’

Healthier Devon is commissioned by Devon County Council and is run alongside a national programme, commissioned by the NHS.

Devon residents who want to reduce their risk of getting diabetes can self-refer and have until the end of June to register for the Devon programme.

‘People have a matter of weeks now to take up a place with Healthier Devon because we’re only contracted to take referrals until the end of June,’ says programme manager, Amanda Kohn.

‘Anyone who is referred or refers themself and who is assessed as at risk before 30 June will be supported for the full two-year duration of the programme by our Devon-based health facilitators with local knowledge.’

For more information or to register your interest in the project, call 03033 000 181 or email  westbank.healthierdevon1@nhs.net

Photographs kindly supplied by Westbank / Healthier Devon.

Main photograph: Participants & facilitators enjoy the July 2021 Okehampton Walk.

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