Lifestyle Intervention in Prediabetes Not Just About Weight Loss

Andrew D. Bowser

June 26, 2020

Adults with prediabetes of normal weight may derive at least as much benefit from lifestyle health coaching programs as adults who are overweight or obese, results of a recent nonrandomized, real-world study show.

Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) normalized in about 63% of prediabetic adults with normal body mass index (BMI) participating in a personalized coaching program that emphasized exercise, nutrition, and weight management, according to researcher Mandy Salmon, MS.

By contrast, FPG normalized in about 52% of overweight and 44% of obese prediabetic individuals participating in the program, according to Ms. Salmon, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

The normal-weight individuals didn't lose any weight after participating in the coaching program, but they did significantly increase exercise, as did their overweight and obese counterparts, Ms. Salmon said in a presentation of her findings at virtual annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association.

That means not only that normal-weight individuals shouldn't be excluded from coaching interventions for diabetes prevention, but also that the success of such programs shouldn't be judged solely on the magnitude of weight loss, according to the researcher.

"It is interesting to note that, although the normal weight group lost the least amount of weight, they still benefited from the lifestyle health coaching program, but having a resultant greatest decrease in fasting plasma glucose and normalization to a range of someone without prediabetes," Ms. Salmon said.

The fact that most of those patients experienced normalization of FPG despite no weight loss emphasizes the importance of physical activity as a lifestyle intervention, according to Mark Schutta, MD, medical director of Penn Rodebaugh Diabetes Center in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study.

"You hear these axioms that say things like, 'you can never outexercise a bad diet,' and that's probably true. But all the studies will tell us that a fit, overweight diabetic has much lower risk of cardiovascular disease than an unfit overweight diabetic," Dr. Schutta said in an interview.

Benefits in Normal-Weight Individuals

One in three Americans has prediabetes, and of those individuals, one in five have a normal BMI, Ms. Salmon said in her virtual ADA presentation.

It's thought that diabetes may develop in those normal-weight individuals through different pathological mechanisms than in overweight or obese individuals. In turn, that could mean that standard methods for staving off diabetes prevention may not be as effective for them, she said.

Those mechanisms are not well understood; even so, normal BMI is currently an exclusion criterion for many diabetes prevention programs, she added, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Diabetes Prevention Program, which specifically requires that individuals have an elevated BMI to be eligible for referral.

To evaluate the potential benefits of coaching in normal-weight individuals, the investigators studied a cohort of 1,897 adults with prediabetes, defined as a baseline FPG of 100-125 mg/dL, who were participating in a lifestyle health coaching program. Of those participants, 188, or about 10% had a normal BMI of 18.5-24.9 mg/m2. Another 495 participants were overweight, with BMIs between 25 and 29.9, while 1,214 were obese, with a BMI of at least 30.

The intervention included an initial assessment to generate goals and a personalized action plan based on the individual's risk factors, according to Ms. Salmon, along with an action plan that included one-on-one, behaviorally oriented, technology-enabled lifestyle health coaching focused on exercise and physical activity, weight management, and nutrition.

Key Findings

With a mean follow-up of 145 days, weight loss in the obese group was greater than that of the overweight group, with mean BMI changes of –1.3 and –0.6, respectively, while there was no significant change in weight for the normal-weight individuals, according to Ms. Salmon.

By contrast, weekly aerobic activity increased significantly in all three groups, she added, with average increases of 95 minutes in the obese group, 98 minutes in the overweight group, and 77 minutes in the normal-weight group.

Likewise, significant decreases in FPG were seen in all 3 groups, with average changes of –6 mg/dL for the obese participants, –7 mg/dL for overweight participants, and –9 mg/dL for normal-weight participants, Ms. Salmon said.

The proportion of individuals whose FPG normalized was highest in the normal-weight group, at 62%, compared with 51.7% for overweight and 44% for obese individuals, she added.

Most previous studies of lifestyle interventions for prediabetes have excluded normal-weight individuals, according to Ms. Salmon, who said one strength of her study was that the subjects were already participating in the established lifestyle health coaching program and didn't interact with the team of researchers.

"It was an effectiveness study in which we could see the real-world benefits of the program, rather than a theoretical efficacy study," she said.

Ms. Salmon said she had no potential conflicts of interest to disclose. The coinvestigators of the study were members or employees of a privately held population health management company called INTERVENT International.

SOURCE: Salmon MK et al. ADA 2020, Abstract 273-OR.

This article originally appeared on


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.