The diabetes epidemic is a growing concern in many parts of the world. In the UK, over 3.9 million people have the chronic illness, which Diabetes UK estimates will increase to 5 million by 2025.
People living with diabetes can find it affects their life in many ways. It can impact their bodily health but also their social life and mental wellbeing. On a broader level, it impacts health systems around the world too. Diabetes costs the NHS in the UK almost £10 billion per year. £8.8 billion of that money goes to type 2 diabetes, which is mostly preventable. Only a small amount of that £10 billion goes towards treatment; 80% of the spending is on handling complications which can include heart disease, kidney issues, vision problems and strokes.
The climbing rate of diabetes has been outpacing our advancements in treatment and prevention. However, the concerning numbers have encouraged brilliant innovators to jump into action. More and more healthtech startups are revolutionising treatments while increasing the accessibility of diabetes prevention programs.
How innovators are finding ways to reverse the epidemic
Obesity accounts for over 80% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and the levels of obesity are climbing worldwide. The NHS estimates that 1 in every 4 people in the UK is obese.
As most people who have tried to lose weight know, it’s not merely just about being advised to lose weight. With so much contradictory information about dieting available on the internet and social media, plus social dependence on food and drink, it can be a difficult task. Our relationship with food is very complex, so poorly handled attempts at encouraging weight loss can lead to weight gain
People who are ready to lose weight, and therefore greatly decrease their risk of type 2 diabetes, can benefit from ongoing support and guidance. That can prove expensive for some. It may also require more intensive input that healthcare systems may struggle to provide.
Digital health startups like Oviva and Second Nature are leveraging telehealth to make healthy lifestyle programs accessible to anyone with a smartphone. The programs vary but generally include frequent check-ins with qualified dieticians, detailed health and exercise plans and lifestyle tracking. They are designed not just to help people lose weight for the short term, but to make positive lifestyle changes that will last.
Startups are advancing Medtech to improve the quality of life for people with diabetes
Having diabetes can be very disruptive to someone’s day-to-day life. It’s an illness that can be time-consuming and restrictive. Scientists and doctors are advancing tech that will reduce the burden on diabetics and offer more options for self-management. They are moving towards monitoring technology that will offer more freedom and flexibility, which ultimately leads to better control of the condition. Inventions that monitor for complications, such as foot ulcers, can give peace of mind to people with the disease.
Location: United States
Eversense has developed the world’s first implantable continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device. The small 3.5mm X 18.3mm is placed just under the skin during a minor procedure and needs to be replaced after 90 days.
A rechargeable transmitter is placed to the skin over the implanted device using double-sided silicone tape. The transmitter is removable so can be quickly removed for sports or events and showering for example. It’s worth noting the device is also waterproof. The added flexibility of a removable device dramatically increases the freedom of CGM.
Readings are transmitted directly to the user’s phone where they can access instant readings, graphs, and receive alerts when something needs attention.
Location: United Kingdom & Switzerland
Oviva appreciates the importance of regular contact with dieticians for diabetics to improve their health, no matter their stage of diabetes. Through their mobile app, Oviva offers a variety of programs for diabetics that are available for free with a referral from an NHS doctor. All programs provide regular contact with a dietician, tailored learning materials and exercise tracking.
Their prevention program lasts 6-12 months and helps people lower their risk of diabetes by working towards a healthier lifestyle. For those already diagnosed with diabetes, the 8-12 week diabetes support program will help patients understand their illness and how to manage it. The 12-month Oviva Diabetes 800 program guides people to reverse diabetes through weight loss and creating healthy habits that can be maintained.
Location: United Kingdom
29% of people in England are obese, and the rate continues to rise. Many studies show the strong link between type 2 diabetes and obesity, and it’s believed that over 80% of diabetes risk comes from obesity.
Second Nature is a 12-week weight loss program that helps people cut through the contradictory information about dieting. With the help of science, the app teaches everything someone needs to know about exercising and changing eating habits to develop a lifelong healthy lifestyle.
Location: United States
Virta Health’s program aims to reduce or eliminate a diabetic’s use of medication through lifestyle changes. Virta provides health coaches, personalised diet and exercise plans, medical supervision, and detailed tracking to help users reach their health goals. The health coach is available through text, so users can get immediate answers to any questions they may have.
Virta focuses on using a ketogenic diet to help diabetes stabilise their blood sugar level while safely losing weight.
Location: United States
Diabetic foot ulcers are a dangerous condition that can occur in 1 out of 10 diabetics. If it progresses, it can result in toe or foot amputations, so it’s essential that foot ulcers are caught quickly.
Specialised insoles developed by Bonbouton can detect potential ulcers using technology embedded in the insoles. The sensitive sensors can detect temperature changes within 0.25 °C. If the insoles detect a substantial temperature change that may indicate a potential ulcer, the wearer is alerted through their smartphone app. Carers and healthcare providers can also receive alerts.