How can behavioural science contribute to type 2 diabetes prevention research?

Seven recommendations from seven experts in the field

By Dr Rochelle Sleaby

More than 1.3 million Australians were living with diabetes in 2021. In addition, 49,900 people were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2021. Research has shown that it is possible to prevent or delay approximately 60% of cases of type 2 diabetes. Typically, this requires a person to adopt various healthy behaviours (e.g. improved nutrition and exercise). Type 2 diabetes prevention programs can support people to make and sustain these changes. However, these programs are based, mostly, on evidence generated over 20 years ago.

In a recent article, Professor David French and colleagues reported on how behavioural science can support type 2 diabetes prevention. Behavioural science is the study of human behaviours. The researchers made several recommendations for future research.

Behavioural research is needed to:

      1. Evaluate population-level type 2 diabetes prevention programs.
        What can work for more people over a longer period of time?
      2. Compare type 2 diabetes prevention programs to generic weight-loss programs.
        What works best, diabetes-specific or generic programs?
      3. Improve reach and engagement of type 2 diabetes prevention programs.
        How to reach more people? How to keep people engaged? Does a ‘human element’ improve digital programs?
      4. Understand how to improve the long-term impact of type 2 diabetes prevention programs.
        How to sustain behaviour change beyond 12 months?
      5. Explore the mechanisms of effective type 2 diabetes prevention programs.
        How do prevention programs work? What are their ‘key ingredients’?
      6. Evaluate personalised, psychological and social approaches to type 2 diabetes prevention.
        What are new approaches? When and how does social context matter? How can psychology be better incorporated?
      7. Address the mental and emotional aspects of type 2 diabetes prevention.
        How to communicate type 2 diabetes risk without stigmatising? What is the role of psychological support in type 2 diabetes prevention? What is the relationship between type 2 diabetes risk and mental health?

Behavioural science is central to the success of type 2 diabetes prevention programs. More behavioural research is needed to improve their reach and effectiveness. Researchers and healthcare systems need to be open to new or improved ways to promote health and wellbeing.

You can read more about behaviour change on the ACBRD Blog.


Reference: David P. French, Amy L. Ahern, Colin J. Greaves, Rhiannon E. Hawkes, Suzanne Higgs, Rachel Pechey, Falko F. Sniehotta. Preventing type 2 diabetes: A research agenda for behavioural science. Diabetic Medicine, 2023; 40: 1-12.

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