There are many medications that treat diabetes, so why does the National DPP focus on lifestyle changes? There are two reasons: availability and effectiveness.
First, lifestyle changes are readily available treatments. Changing one’s diet or adding physical activity to one’s daily routine may be more cost effective than requiring an individual to purchase a medication. Additionally, a variety of organizations can be involved in lifestyle change programs, including churches, schools, health organizations, worksites, and community organizations. These types of programs can reach a broader audience, including individuals who may not regularly go to a primary care physician.
Second, behavior change has been proven to be more effective than medication in preventing and/or delaying a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. The National DPP conducted a study of overweight participants with prediabetes to determine which method of treating prediabetes was most effective: lifestyle change programs, prescription drug therapy, or educational programs about diabetes.
The study found that lifestyle change programs, including exercise groups and diet plans, had the best outcome. These participants lost an average of 15 pounds during the first year, and, over the course of the 3-year study, reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58%.7 Those who only received drug therapy reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by only 31%, while individuals in the education-only category had even poorer results. Those enrolled in the lifestyle change programs also had other long-term health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and lower triglyceride levels by the end of the study. 8