Screening for type 2 diabetes: a short report for the National Screening Committee

Health Technol Assess. 2013 Aug;17(35):1-90. doi: 10.3310/hta17350.


Background: The prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) has been increasing, owing to increases in overweight and obesity, decreasing physical activity and the changing demographic structure of the population. People can develop T2DM without symptoms and up to 20% may be undiagnosed. They may have diabetic complications, such as retinopathy, by the time they are diagnosed, or may suffer a heart attack, without warning. Undiagnosed diabetes can be detected by raised blood glucose levels.

Aim: The aim of this review was to provide an update for the UK National Screening Committee (NSC) on screening for T2DM.

Methods: As this review was undertaken to update a previous Health Technology Assessment review published in 2007, and a more recent Scottish Public Health Network review, searches for evidence were restricted from 2009 to end of January 2012, with selected later studies added. The databases searched were MEDLINE, EMBASE, MEDLINE-in-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Science Citation Index and Conference Proceedings Citation Index. The case for screening was considered against the criteria used by the NSC to assess proposed population screening programmes.

Results: Population screening for T2DM does not meet all of the NSC criteria. Criterion 12, on optimisation of existing management, has not been met. A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) gives details of shortcomings. Criterion 13 requires evidence from high-quality randomised controlled trials that screening is beneficial. This has not been met. The Ely trial of screening showed no benefit. The ADDITION trial was not a trial of screening, but showed no benefit in cardiovascular outcomes from intensive management in people with screen-detected T2DM. Criterion 18 on staffing and facilities does not appear to have been met, according to the NAO report. Criterion 19 requires that all other options, including prevention, should have been considered. A large proportion of cases of T2DM could be prevented if people avoided becoming overweight or obese. The first stage of selection would use risk factors, using data held on general practitioner computer systems, using the QDiabetes Risk Score, or by sending out questionnaires, using the Finnish Diabetes Risk Score (FINDRISC). Those at high risk would have a measure of blood glucose. There is no perfect screening test. Glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) testing has advantages in not requiring a fasting sample, and because it is a predictor of vascular disease across a wider range than just the diabetic one. However, it lacks sensitivity and would miss some people with diabetes. Absolute values of HbA1c may be more useful as part of overall risk assessment than a dichotomous 'diabetes or not diabetes' diagnosis. The oral glucose tolerance test is more sensitive, but inconvenient, more costly, has imperfect reproducibility and is less popular, meaning that uptake would be lower.

Conclusions: When considered against the NSC criteria, the case for screening is less strong than it was in the 2007 review. The main reason is the absence of cardiovascular benefit in the two trials published since the previous review. There is a case for selective screening as part of overall vascular risk assessment. Population screening for T2DM does not meet all of the NSC criteria.

Funding: The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / economics
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diabetes Complications / economics
  • Diabetes Complications / prevention & control*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diagnosis*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / economics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Glucose Tolerance Test / economics
  • Glucose Tolerance Test / standards
  • Glycated Hemoglobin / analysis
  • Glycated Hemoglobin / economics
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / economics
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / prevention & control
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / economics
  • Prediabetic State / complications
  • Prediabetic State / diagnosis*
  • Prediabetic State / economics
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • United Kingdom


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human