Wednesday, 9 May 2018

One Size Doesn’t Fit All – So, What’s on the Menu?

With very few exceptions, including the absolute necessity for insulin replacement in Type 1 and the all-round benefits of regular physical activity, for the vast majority, it’s becoming ever clearer that diabetes is a condition where one size most definitely does not fit all. Not in terms of treatments, delivery devices, monitoring, emotional response, coping mechanisms or even the exact diagnosis. As the famous Monty Python quote goes ‘you’re all individuals’, and in this case, there is no little voice piping up, ‘I’m not!’

From SD’s point of view, this is very much A Good Thing, and one which we have long promoted, so it was very heartening to see a couple of recent publications that seem to emphasise this point, albeit in different ways

Firstly, the updated ‘Diabetes UK evidence-based nutrition guidelines for the prevention and management of diabetes’ painstakingly repeat throughout their recommendations that individual’s food preferences, foods rather than nutrients and broader considerations of weight, activity, medications and the like, need to be made alongside simply their ‘diet’ in general or sugar intake in particular

This is a very welcome departure and one, as the recommendations also say, that will be more accessible and relevant to people living with diabetes as well as health professionals. Notwithstanding that, the recommendations are very clear that a reduction in processed foods, refined carbohydrates and an aim for Mediterranean-style healthy eating is valuable. Again, this reflects the evidence without being overly prescriptive as perhaps, previous guidelines have been wont to do

The need for education for both prevention of, and living with, diabetes features heavily in what we might call these new ‘eating’ guidelines. This brings us to the other recent eye-catching publication. This is a review of diabetes self management education programmes , from an internationally known set of authors. The paper describes that for many people with diabetes, education programmes, however effective, are simply not accessible. The authors give the 2 top barriers to uptake as, firstly, that health professionals do not sufficiently recommend attendance and secondly, that people living with diabetes believe there is no or little need for them to attend. Unsurprisingly, the review concludes that both health professionals and people with diabetes may need help to see the importance and benefits of attendance

In a way, there is nothing new about these findings and recommendations. They have been made now in many, many publications, this is just the latest and a high profile one at that. What is striking is, in the UK at least, how little the principles of identification of individual needs and preferences reflecting the ‘one size does not fit all’ approach, seems to apply to providing a range of educational options for people and also helping health professionals get better at ‘selling’ the programmes within consultations and clinics

Recent monies have been allocated by NHS England to diabetes education – obviously this is welcome – but many projects to spend these ££ seem to focus on improving the number of places on programmes, rather than encouraging people to actually attend - closing the referral/attendance gap, as it were

Attention on attendance would appear absolutely vital if the money is to be well spent and reap benefits, yet this doesn’t appear to really be happening, except in some enlightened places that we are aware of, among them Bexley, Walsall and Bedford CCGs, who have taken a concerted and importantly, varied, approach to both the top barriers mentioned above and from previous research

Their interventions include using one-to-one programmes like the Diabetes Manual Programme and also approaching health professionals directly with ways they can quickly and simply (essential features!) provide encouragement that directly counters the known barriers to attendance. In Bedford, we recently helped to create a bespoke webinar for health professionals to participate in, either live or recorded, from the comfort of their desk or office. Early results from this ‘lots of sizes’ approach to dealing with the attendance conundrum in are showing both greater enthusiasm among health professionals and greater attendance among people with Type 2 diabetes, as a recent article in Healthcare Leader journal showed

SD is delighted to have played a part in providing the training and development of these innovations to help achieve these results, in these places, (and there are no doubt others around or upcoming),and providing resources to help encourage attendance, but there is still so much more to do and so much more effort to be made. There is a wide range of reasons that prevent people from attending education, and, in the same way the food recommendations have been made, these need to be systematically addressed with a similarly wide range of initiatives. One size doesn’t, and never will, fit all!


Chatterjee, S et al (2018). Structured education programmes in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes: a narrative review and current innovations. The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, 6(2) 130-142

Dyson, PA et al (2018). Diabetes UK evidence-based nutrition guidelines for the prevention and management of diabetes. Diabetic Medicine, 35, 541-547

Healthcare Leader News (online) How our CCG Secured £500k to Look After Patients with Diabetes’ 30 April, 2018

Successful Diabetes. How to Encourage Attendance at Diabetes Clinics and Education. Available from SD Downloads