It is estimated that 3 million Canadians have been diagnosed with diabetes, and that figure may climb in the next several years. With National Diabetes Month coming up in November, municipalities like the Toronto Public Health are spreading awareness for the prevention of diabetes.
Lisa Swimmer, supervisor for the diabetes prevention strategy for Toronto Public Health, says the number of Canadian being diagnosed with diabetes is at an all-time high. “According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, in 2010 an estimated 2.7 million Canadians had diabetes, and by 2020 it’s anticipated that 4.2 million—almost 11% of the population—will be diagnosed,” said Swimmer. “It has been shown that the national age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes is 3 to 5 times higher in the Aboriginal population than in the general population. That would mean that there are upwards of 20% of the Aboriginal population living with type 2 diabetes.”
Diabetes affects the body’s ability to use the energy we get from food. The body changes food into glucose (a type of sugar) that is found in the blood after eating a meal. Insulin is a hormone made by the body that helps glucose move out of the blood and into cells so that it can be used as energy. Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes. If not treated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as blindness, loss of limbs, and heart and kidney disease.
There are Type 1 and 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes. About 90% people with diabetes have type 2. It usually occurs in adults over the age of 40, but rates are rising in younger people. Some symptoms to be aware of include being thirsty often, having to urinate often, weight change (gain or loss), feeling tired or having no energy, blurred vision, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, and tingling or numbness in hands and feet.
“Type 2 diabetes (not type 1 diabetes) can be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes. Even small changes can help to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes,” said Swimmer. “Being physically active, eating healthy, attaining or maintaining a healthy weight, and being smoke-free can all lower your risk or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.”
Researchers from Cambridge University have found that a high-fibre diet can help reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes. They have found that the more fibre you eat, the lower the risk of the condition. During the 11 year study, individuals with the highest fibre intake (more than 26 grams per day) had an 18% lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with those whose diets contained the least fibre (less than 19 grams per day), even when lifestyle factors such as physical activity, smoking, alcohol use, and calorie intake were accounted for. Examples of high-fibre foods include whole grain products (whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), vegetables, fruit, and legumes (peas, beans, and lentils). It’s important to also stress that those living with pre-diabetes can still prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, increased physical activity, and healthy eating.
Swimmers says there are several reasons why the Aboriginal community is at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. They include socio-economic determinants, genetic susceptibility, and lifestyle (tobacco use, overweight and obesity, diet, and physical activity). “Social determinants of health, including disparities in income, education, housing, and employment coupled with poor access to health services put the Aboriginal community at greater risk,” said Swimmer. “People with lower incomes face barriers to good health including difficulty accessing quality food, housing, and education. Chronic stress related to the social determinants of health puts individuals at increased risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes.”
A genetic risk factor called the ”thrifty gene effect” has been shown to increase the type 2 diabetes rates in Aboriginal populations. The theory suggests that Aboriginal populations are predisposed to conserve calories. This dates back to a time when access to food was not always available. Today, this genetic predisposition (combined with the transition from traditional to non-traditional diets and an increase in processed foods) has put Aboriginal populations at a higher risk for obesity.
Toronto Public Health’s new diabetes awareness campaign encourages people who face at least one risk factor for diabetes to take an online risk assessment (CANRISK Questionnaire). During Diabetes Awareness Month (November), they will be promoting this new campaign using online advertising and in person at community events. “We want to get the attention of people who may not consider themselves to be at risk. The main message is: You may be at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Take this simple online assessment to determine your risk level and learn how to take action to prevent diabetes.”