One in three Canadians has diabetes, or will develop diabetes

Yet the majority of Canadians don’t know enough about this prevalent condition, says Diabetes Canada

Between you, the reader – and me, the writer – and the editor who posted this story online, chances are one of us has diabetes.

And that’s why Diabetes Canada is working hard to bring attention to the fact that millions of Canadians now have or will soon be diagnosed with diabetes.

As starting as the numbers sound, things are not getting better, according to Diabetes Canada, the organization that monitors the disease and advocates for support and solutions.

“With 640 new cases daily, 26 hourly, or one every three minutes — it’s not slowing down. That is why Diabetes Canada is raising awareness around the impacts of this chronic condition, which affects 11.7-million Canadians (with prediabetes and diabetes) and costs the health-care system almost $50 million to treat every day,” said the news release.

The numbers are complex in that some six million Canadians are regarded as “pre-diabetic,” meaning they have all the indicators and lifestyle pointing toward the eventual development of diabetes.

For Laura Syron, it points to an epidemic in Canada. Syron was appointed to the post of President and CEO at Diabetes Canada just over two years ago.

She said part of the reason is that Canadians no longer live like our grandparents used to live.

“So for example, we walk less than people who used to be farmers. We do less physical activity. Our neighborhoods are not walkable. Our lifestyle often means we’re eating more convenience foods, we’re eating less healthy,” Syron said .

She added that in a lot of rural parts of Canada, getting access to healthy food is a challenge.

“Depending on where you live, you may not have access to healthy food, or it’s very expensive. So the environment in which we actually live does not encourage healthy eating, active living. And therefore diabetes is on the rise,” Syron added.

She said another reason is that life expectancy has more Canadians living longer, compared to a few generations ago. She said it means as people live longer the incidence of diabetes is increasing.

Syron, who has Type 2 Diabetes, sees herself as an example. She never has a history of the disease in her family, but a few years back, when she had a new family doctor, she had a full physical and blood testing done. She had an A1C blood-sugar test done. That’s when she learned she had diabetes.

“And it was just like a bolt of lightning. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had no sense it was coming,” she said.

Syron added that even if you live a healthy lifestyle, your own genetics can betray you because diabetes happens among some groups more than others, simply because of who they are.

“So what ethnicity you are, if you’re from an Indigenous community, you are just at high risk. Even if you’re walking everywhere, and you’re eating healthy, you’re just at higher risk.

And there’s lots of research into why that might be so South Asian communities, Black communities, and certainly Indigenous. And of course, in Canada, those communities are growing. And so the numbers of people with diabetes are growing.”

Change The Conversation

Syron said that may be starting to some Canadians but she added that it points to the need to “change the conversation” because far too many Canadians have been judged for having diabetes. Syron said people will unfairly suggest that diabetics created their own situation.

“There’s a lot of misunderstandings,” she said. “And there’s also this sense of stigma that somehow you’ve brought it on yourself.”

Syron likens it to the challenges that were faced by people with mental illness in recent years, until people finally came to the understanding that it was a legitimate medical condition.

“There was a lot of stigma, there was a lot of shame. People didn’t talk about it. Yeah, if you disclosed it, it was just to your friends,” Syron said.

She said people have to understand that diabetes can occur to anyone living a regular life. Syron added that despite many assumptions, Insulin is not a cure for diabetes, but merely a means to help manage their diabetes, because there are other complications. She said 50 per cent of adult blindness is caused by diabetes and 40 per cent of adult heart attacks are related to diabetes.

In general terms, Syron said not enough is being done by the provincial or national levels of government to help people prevent or manage diabetes. This includes making treatments and tools available to Ontario residents to help them manage the disease in an affordable manner. In Ontario, only young people (age 24 and younger) and senior citizens get subsidized prescriptions and devices that help manage diabetes.

She did say however that Diabetes Canada (DC) was pleased in October to learn that the federal government has tabled a plan, a framework for diabetes in Canada. It is a plan and Syron said the hope is that government will come through with the money.

“Diabetes Canada is pleased with the measures outlined in the much-anticipated Framework document and urges the federal government, and its provincial and territorial partners, to identify and dedicate the necessary investments in their 2023 Budgets (and successive years) to implement the Framework, “said the DC release.

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.

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