The New Zealand Health Research Council (NZHRC) has injected $1.6 million into a research project to study an innovative self-management programme for people with pre-diabetes and diabetes.

The programme, known as BetaMe, was developed by software company Melon Health.

Pinnacle Midlands Health Network collaborated with Melon Health to pilot the programme in the Waikato in 2015.

Ultimately, BetaMe was designed to help people with pre-diabetes take control of their own health and prevent diabetes.

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The programme was delivered to participants online through a website and Android and iOS apps, and included a health coach, peer and clinical support, as well as tracking and personalised interventions.

Pinnacle Midlands Health Network long term conditions management programme lead Sally Newell said the NZHRC awarded the $1.6 million research grant to validate BetaMe's innovative use of technology and its potential to ease the burden diabetes places on New Zealand's health system.

"The initial pilot was an overwhelming success.

"Results demonstrated that BetaMe is a cost-effective pre-diabetes intervention that increases self-efficacy and health literacy."

A total 117 patients across NorthCare Pukete Rd Hamilton, Te Awamutu Medical Centre and Mahoe Medical Centre took part in the initial pilot.

To meet the eligibility criteria they had to be aged between 18 and 75 years, have an HbA1c in the 45-49 mmol/mol range and have no prior diabetes diagnosis.

HbA1C, BMI, blood pressure and waist measurements were taken and a target weight loss of either five or 10 per cent of the patient's total weight was set based on the patient's general health and BMI.

At the end of the pilot, 78 per cent of participants who completed the programme no longer met the clinical criteria for pre-diabetes, and a staggering 91 per cent of participants had a reduced HbA1C.

"We were delighted with these results," Newell said.

"They also showed that 94 per cent of participants reduced their BMI, 87 per cent lost size around their waist circumference, and 59 per cent had returned to having normal blood pressure.

"Our conclusion was that self-management interventions are a valuable way to address the burden diabetes places on the health system.

"BetaMe can work alongside general practices to improve the physical and mental health of people with prediabetes.

"Now, with the NZHRC funding available, we can carry out a more robust study to further validate these results," she added.

Newell said Pinnacle Midlands Health Network is confident that the study will be a success and that "rapid transformational change is both likely and expected".

A team of primary care practitioners, patients, Maori and Pacific experts, health psychologists, and diabetes and technology experts carefully designed BetaMe to meet the individual needs of patients with pre-diabetes.

The study will be undertaken by the researchers from the University of Otago Wellington.

Diabetes in New Zealand

• About 257,000 people in New Zealand have a diagnosis of diabetes.

• The number of people with diabetes continues to rise each year, especially obesity-related Type 2 diabetes.

• Diabetes is most common among Maori and Pacific Islanders who are three times more likely to develop diabetes than other New Zealanders.

• The disease has the potential for severe complications and comes at a high cost to the health system.

• It is estimated that a person living with diabetes costs New Zealand's health system three times more per than someone without diabetes.