© 2018 The Author(s). Background: Several countries, including England, have recently introduced lifestyle-focused diabetes prevention programmes. These aim to reduce the risk of individuals with pre-diabetes developing type 2 diabetes. We sought to summarise research on how socio-cultural influences and risk perception affect people's behaviour (such as engagement in lifestyle interventions) after being told that they have pre-diabetes. Methods: Using the RAMESES standards for meta-narrative systematic reviews, we identified studies from database searches and citation-tracking. Studies were grouped according to underlying theorisations of pre-diabetes. Following a descriptive analysis, the studies were synthesised with reference to Cockerham's health lifestyle theory. Results: In total, 961 titles were scanned, 110 abstracts assessed and 35 full papers reviewed. Of 15 studies included in the final analysis, 11 were based on individual interviews, focus groups or ethnography and five on structured questionnaires or surveys. Three meta-narratives emerged. The first, which we called biomedical, characterised pre-diabetes as the first stage in a recognised pathophysiological illness trajectory and sought to intervene with lifestyle changes to prevent its progression. The second, which we called psychological, focused on the theory-informed study of the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in people with pre-diabetes. These studies found that participants generally had an accurate perception of their risk of developing diabetes, but this knowledge did not directly lead to behavioural change. Some psychological studies incorporated wider social factors in their theoretical models and sought to address these through action at the individual level. The third meta-narrative we termed social realist. These studies conceptualised pre-diabetes as the product of social determinants of health and they applied sociological theories to explore the interplay between individual agency and societal influences, such as the socio-cultural context and material and economic circumstances. They recommended measures to address these structural influences on lifestyle choices. Conclusions: The study of pre-diabetes to date has involved at least three research disciplines (biomedicine, psychology and sociology), which up to now have operated largely independently of one another. Behavioural science and sociology are increasing our understanding of how personal, social, cultural and economic aspects influence health-related behaviours. An interdisciplinary approach with theoretically informed multi-level studies could potentially improve the success of diabetes prevention strategies.