A woman measuring blood-sugar with a smartphone.

Weight loss proven to reduce heart and kidney disease in people with type 2 diabetes

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For millions of people around the world, a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes often comes with a recommendation to reduce their weight. Losing weight could mean they won’t need to continue to take medication, or that they could reverse the diagnosis.

Researchers in the School of Population Health at RCSI set out to understand the interplay between weight loss in type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions that impact patients’ lives. Their research, published in Diabetologia, is among the first to show that reversal of diabetes, in turn, affects cardiovascular and kidney disease outcomes.

The research was led by Professor Edward Gregg, Head of the School of Population Health at RCSI. 

For participants in the weight-loss trial who were able to achieve remission, the research found there was a 40% lower rate of cardiovascular disease and 33% lower rate of chronic kidney disease in this group. 

The findings come at a crucial time, providing much-needed insights into effective management strategies for type 2 diabetes when the global prevalence of the disease is rising at an alarming rate. 

Lifestyle intervention

The study, called Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes), monitored over 5,000 patients during a period of 12 years. Over the course of the study, the effect of intensive lifestyle intervention was compared with that of diabetes support and education on cardiovascular disease and other long-term health conditions.  

It was noted that although 18% of participants achieved remission at some point during follow-up, the percentage of participants with current remission had decreased to 3% by the eighth year of the study, underlining the challenges of maintaining weight loss through lifestyle changes alone. The significant drop in remission rates highlights the need for sustained support and innovative strategies to help patients achieve and maintain their health goals. 

RCSI researchers collaborated on the study with colleagues at Wake Forest University, Brown University and other study sites in the United States. 

The lessons learned from this study will help inform more effective diabetes management strategies, emphasising the importance of weight control in improving the quality of life for people with type 2 diabetes.