One in seven adults here has pre-diabetes, but it is unclear if certain lifestyle measures can stop them from developing full-blown diabetes.
That issue will be investigated in an upcoming study that will assess the effectiveness of a new diabetes prevention programme.
Led by SingHealth Duke-NUS Diabetes Centre, the study will test the effects of interventions, including group exercise sessions and classes on healthy eating, on pre-diabetics.
The Pre-Dicted (Pre-diabetes Interventions and Continued Tracking to Ease Out Diabetes) programme, as it is called, was developed by the SingHealth centre, along with the Health Promotion Board and the Singapore Clinical Research Institute.
Dr Bee Yong Mong, senior consultant in endocrinology at Singapore General Hospital and head of the SingHealth diabetes centre, said: "The data that we gather will be critical in helping us understand the impact of such interventions on our local population.
"We will also be able to evaluate if this should be the new standard of care to prevent diabetes in Singapore."
About 14.4 per cent of Singapore residents aged 18 to 69 have pre-diabetes, according to the National Health Survey 2010.
This group has blood sugar levels that are higher than average, but not high enough to have diabetes.
If left unattended, 35 per cent of them could develop diabetes over the next eight years.
The researchers aim to recruit 850 people aged 18 to 64 who have pre-diabetes and a body mass index of 23 and above.
About half will be put in the Pre-Dicted programme, and they will get cash incentives for shedding 5 per cent of their weight and maintaining it. They will be given medication at a later stage if needed.
The rest will be given standard care, where they will go to a primary care provider, such as a polyclinic or general practitioner, for lifestyle counselling and follow-up care.
All the participants will undergo health checks every six months during the three-year study.
In general, those under the Pre-Dicted programme will attend nutrition workshops, exercise classes and goal-setting sessions regularly for the first six weeks.
They will then have to complete tasks, such as climbing the stairs at MRT stations, that are geared towards improving their diet and physical activity. They will also receive text messages and telephone calls to check on their progress.
Each participant has to pay $20 to join the study, but they will get $80 at the end of it.
About 60 people have signed up so far, including Mr Yong Kian Fatt, 56, who was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes during a check-up at Tampines Polyclinic.
Mr Yong said he has high cholesterol and hopes the programme, with its exercise and diet elements, can help to improve that too.
"It's not just about diabetes, but I believe it can help with cholesterol," said the father of three, who works in facilities management.
"It's a three-year programme, so discipline is important," he added. "My family, my kids will love to see the results... I look forward to it."
Poon Chian Hui
•Those interested to sign up can call 9115-6276 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.