Adopting a healthy lifestyle is at least as effective as taking drugs to lower the risk of diabetes, experts said today.
A study tested the effects of exercise and healthy eating, diabetes drugs and anti-obesity drugs on the progress of the disease.
It found people who made healthy changes significantly reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and high blood pressure.
Type 2 is on the rise, with 1.9 million sufferers in the UK and hundreds of thousands more undiagnosed.
Researchers from the University of Leicester reviewed 21 studies involving more than 8,000 people suffering impaired glucose tolerance who have a greater chance of developing diabetes.
On average, lifestyle changes helped to reduce the risk of developing type 2 by around half, the study found.
Drugs used in the studies included the anti-obesity drug Xenical (orlistat) – which the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said in December could be suitable for obese children where other weight-loss methods have failed.
Other interventions listed in the studies included oral diabetes drugs and the Chinese herbal remedy, jiangtang bushen recipe.
The authors concluded: ‘Lifestyle and pharmacological interventions reduce the rate of progression to type 2 diabetes in people with impaired glucose tolerance.
‘Lifestyle interventions seem to be at least as effective as drug treatment.’
Adopting a healthy lifestyle was also likely to have fewer side effects than taking drugs, the authors said.
However, they argued that either method must be sustained in order to ward off type 2 diabetes.
Cathy Moulton, care advisor at Diabetes UK, said it was already known a healthy lifestyle ‘plays a huge part in the prevention of type 2 diabetes’.
She added: ‘In the first case, Diabetes UK strongly recommends people try to lose weight through diet and physical activity.
‘If this method has been exhausted and people are not losing weight then prescription medication may help, but may not always be suitable in the long term.’
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