Using a pedometer as part of a structured education programme could reduce the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes by more than 50%, reveals a new Diabetes UK-funded study.

The study focused on 98 people with prediabetes – a precursor to Type 2 diabetes in which people have raised blood glucose (sugar) – and examined whether using a pedometer helped them sustain increased physical activity levels.

There are 2.6m people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK. Around 2.35m of them have Type 2 diabetes and up to another 500,000 have the condition but don’t know it. Diabetes UK says up to 80% of Type 2 diabetes is preventable by adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity.

The new study assessed the effectiveness of pedometer use as part of the Pre-diabetes Risk Education and Physical Activity Recommendation and Encouragement (PREPARE) programme.

PREPARE offers a three hour group education session about prediabetes and the role of a healthy lifestyle in preventing Type 2 diabetes. For the study, a control group was given only a brief information leaflet, another group took part in the education session and another was given both the education session and a pedometer.

The pedometer group were set personalised ‘steps-per-day’ targets, aimed at achieving at least 30 minutes of walking activity each day. All groups were followed up after three, six and 12 months.

Blood glucose levels, which were tested after participants ingested a standardised amount of sugar, were reduced by 15% in the pedometer group after a year compared to the control group. The level of reduction was greater than that reported after one year in the most successful comparable European and American studies.

These studies did not include pedometer use but found that the risk of diabetes was reduced by up to 58% over the longer term.

Dr Iain Frame, research director at leading health charity Diabetes UK, said: “Prediabetes affects an estimated seven million people in the UK and puts you at up to fifteen times more risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

“By finding new ways to educate and motivate people with prediabetes we are aiming to stop the Type 2 diabetes epidemic in its tracks and prevent millions of people developing serious complications of the condition such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation.”

Dr Frame added: “This study shows that we can and must take action to prevent Type 2 diabetes, particularly if the benefits can be shown in a larger number of people and over a sustained period of time.”

Lead researcher Dr Thomas Yates, from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester, added: “Our study proves that using a pedometer as part of a structured education programme can really improve health outcomes for people with prediabetes.

“Using lifestyle interventions such as PREPARE to stop people developing Type 2 diabetes and its complications could save the NHS a fortune. This is particularly relevant to the Government’s Health Check Programme, which focuses on the prevention of vascular disease, including Type 2 diabetes.

Dr Yates concluded: “The impressive results of this study are already being recognised and the programme is now being implemented in Primary Care Trusts in England and Ireland. Longer-term evaluation of its impact continues both in these PCTs and in the original study participants.”