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Diabetes is a leading cause of morbidity, mortality and cost of illness1,2. Health behaviours, particularly those related to nutrition and physical activity, play a key role in the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus3. Whereas behaviour change programmes (also known as lifestyle interventions or similar) have been found efficacious in controlled clinical trials4,5, there remains controversy about whether targeting health behaviours at the individual level is an effective preventive strategy for type 2 diabetes mellitus6 and doubt among clinicians that lifestyle advice and counselling provided in the routine health system can achieve improvements in health7-9. Here we show that being referred to the largest behaviour change programme for prediabetes globally (the English Diabetes Prevention Programme) is effective in improving key cardiovascular risk factors, including glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), excess body weight and serum lipid levels. We do so by using a regression discontinuity design10, which uses the eligibility threshold in HbA1c for referral to the behaviour change programme, in electronic health data from about one-fifth of all primary care practices in England. We confirm our main finding, the improvement of HbA1c, using two other quasi-experimental approaches: difference-in-differences analysis exploiting the phased roll-out of the programme and instrumental variable estimation exploiting regional variation in programme coverage. This analysis provides causal, rather than associational, evidence that lifestyle advice and counselling implemented at scale in a national health system can achieve important health improvements.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





138 - 144


Humans, Body Weight, Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2, Electronic Health Records, England, Exercise, Glycated Hemoglobin, Health Behavior, Health Promotion, Life Style, Lipids, National Health Programs, Prediabetic State, Primary Health Care