November is Diabetes Awareness Month in Canada, and a variety of activities are planned in Hay River to help spread awareness for a disease that affects more than nine million Canadians.
In 2010, 6.4 per cent of Canadians aged 12 or older reported they had diabetes. In the NWT, the prevalence of diabetes is even higher, but because of its small population, statistics are unreliable. Despite the lack of official numbers, one out of three people have type 2 diabetes and don’t even know it, according to diabetes dietitian and certified diabetes educator Jennifer Touesnard, who works at Hay River Health & Social Services.
“On average they have it for about seven years before they’re diagnosed,” she said.
“The key is knowledge. The more we know about it, the more we know how about the risks and symptoms associated with it, and the more we can know how to manage and prevent it.”
Every year, Health and Social Services offer a variety of activities throughout the community to create more awareness of diabetes.
This year, Diabetes Awareness Month kicked off on Oct. 25 with the Hay River Adult Health Fair, where people could get a wealth of information on the disease as well as get screened for it.
On Oct. 6, the Hay River Reserve is hosting a similar event at the Chief Lamalice Complex.
“If people continue to go around living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, serious complications can arise such as heart attack, stroke, kidney and eye disease, among others,” said Touesnard.
She added that aboriginals living on the reserve were more susceptible to having diabetes in their lifetime, because their lifestyles have changed.
“Traditionally their diets were leaner, and higher in fiber,” she said.
“We’re all less active but aboriginal populations, particularly women, are more vulnerable to diabetes and are also at higher risk for gestational diabetes.”
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, diabetes prevalence among aboriginal populations is at least three times higher than the general population.
Diabetes were rare among aboriginal populations until the 1940s, but rates increased at a rapid pace after the 1950s and have reached epidemic proportions in some communities, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Only 26 per cent of First Nations adults aged 18 years and older living on-reserve reported undertaking sufficient physical activity during leisure time,” according to the First Nations Regional Longitudinal Health Survey in 2010.
Touesnard and other diabetes educators regularly make trips to the reserve and educate students, teachers and parents on the benefits of healthy eating and living.
Local schools are getting involved too, with programs such as Drop the Pop NWT and Sip Smart! encouraging students to adopt healthier eating policies.
Other events in town include a diabetes workshop held at the Chief Lamalice Complex on Nov. 14, a full day event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that will focus on healthy practices, medication and other ways of preventing diabetes. A movie and popcorn night will take place at the Centennial Library on Nov. 27, with a video called Sweet Success with Diabetes: Laugh and Learn with Mrs. Pudding shown at 7 p.m. with an information session to follow.
Finally, information booths will likely be set up at both the Super A and NorthMart stores during the last two Saturdays of the month.
– Myles Dolphin