People with pre-diabetes who lose roughly 10% of their body weight within 6 months of diagnosis dramatically reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes over the next 3 years, according to results of research led by Johns Hopkins scientists.

The findings, investigators say, offer patients and physicians a guide to how short-term behaviour change may affect long-term health.

‘We have known for some time that the greater the weight loss, the lower your risk of diabetes,’ says study leader Nisa Maruthur, MD, MHS, an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. ‘Now we understand that we can see much of the benefit of losing that weight in those first 6 months when people are adjusting to a new way to eating and exercising. Substantial weight loss in the short term clearly should go a long way toward preventing diabetes.’

Preventing pre-diabetes from becoming full-blown diabetes is critical, Maruthur says. Uncontrolled diabetes — marked by excess sugar in the blood — can lead to eye, kidney and nerve damage, as well as cardiovascular disease. The new research suggests that if people with pre-diabetes don’t lose enough weight in those first months, physicians may want to consider more aggressive treatment, such as adding a medication to push blood sugar levels lower.

Maruthur and her colleagues based their conclusions on analysis of data from the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), the largest diabetes prevention study in the United States.