WH&Y authors: Professor Louise Baur

Citation: Gow M, Garnett S, Baur LA, Johnson N, Cowell CT. Reversal of type 2 diabetes in youth who adhere to a very low energy diet: a pilot study. Diabetologia 2017; 60:406-415.



Aims/hypothesis: The aim of the study was to investigate whether a very-low-energy diet (VLED) is a feasible and acceptable treatment option for type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, and whether adherence can lead to rapid weight loss, reversal of type 2 diabetes and reduced liver fat as seen in adult studies.

Methods: Eight participants with type 2 diabetes and obesity, aged 7–16 years, non-medicated (n = 1) or treated with metformin (n = 7) and in some cases insulin (n = 3), followed a VLED (<3360 kJ/day) for 8 weeks, then transitioned to a hypocaloric diet (∼6300 kJ/day) that they followed to 34 weeks. HbA1c, fasting glucose and 2 h post-glucose load plasma glucose (2hG) were determined from fasting blood and an OGTT. Liver fat concentration was quantified using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Adherence was defined as ≥5% weight loss during the 8 week VLED.

Results: Adherers (n = 5) and non-adherers (n = 3) had median weight loss of 7.5% and 0.5%, respectively, at 8 weeks. Overall, HbA1c (mean [SE] 8.1% [0.7%] to 6.6% [0.5%]; p = 0.004) and 2hG (15.6 [1.6] mmol/l to 11.3 [1.0] mmol/l; p = 0.009) were significantly reduced at 8 weeks compared with baseline. Liver fat was also significantly reduced from baseline (14.7% [2.2%]) to 8 weeks (5.8% [1.7%]; p = 0.001). Only three out of eight participants met non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) criteria (≥5.5%) at 8 weeks, compared with eight out of eight at baseline. The three participants on insulin therapy at baseline were able to cease therapy during the 8 week VLED. At 34 weeks, adherers (n = 5) achieved 12.3% weight loss, none met NAFLD criteria and four did not meet American Diabetes Association criteria for type 2 diabetes.

Conclusions/interpretation: A VLED appears to be a feasible treatment option for some youth with type 2 diabetes on metformin therapy. Youth who agree to participate and adhere to a VLED achieve rapid weight loss, dramatic reductions in liver fat and reversal of type 2 diabetes. This highlights the capacity of a VLED to be used as a first-line treatment option in newly diagnosed youth. A larger trial with a control group and longer follow-up will be required to encourage a change in standard treatment.

About The Authors


Louise Baur is Professor and Head of Child and Adolescent Health at the University of Sydney and Hea...