Last Friday commemorated a momentous day in Canadian medical history. Nov. 14 was the birthday of Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist who worked alongside Charles Best in the discovery of insulin as a treatment for diabetes. That day is now known as World Diabetes Day.
To mark that day, the Canadian Diabetes Association at Ryerson (CDAR) held an educational event to raise awareness about the disease, how to prevent it and, more importantly, to say it isn’t going away anytime soon.
“Every year that goes by, there’s more and more (instances of) diabetes,” said Jeremy Gilbert, director of endocrinology at Sunnybrook Hospital and one of the speakers at the event.
Diabetes is known to be a disease of great morbidity and mortality, costing billions of dollars in health care.
It causes problems with the eyes, nerves, kidney, heart and brain, and a study by the Canadian Diabetes Association indicates that diabetes treatment posed a $12.2-billion burden on the economy in 2012. It’s expected to increase by another $4.7 billion by 2020.
Studies have shown a steady increase in diagnosed diabetes. The Public Health Agency of Canada projected that the number of Canadians living with diabetes will reach 3.7 million by 2019, up from 2.4 million since 2009.
The factors involved in this steady increase are complicated. The development of Type 1 diabetes is said to be dependent largely on genes and a combination of viruses, toxins, and foods that you’re exposed to.
It cannot be prevented. Only 10 per cent of all diabetics have Type 1 diabetes.
The rest have Type 2 diabetes, which, unlike Type 1, can be prevented or delayed by eating well, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. Its prevalence is increasing. Gilbert says the increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes is linked to the growing rate of obesity.
“We see that there is a very large number of patients with diabetes, which correlates very much to the obesity epidemic. As more people are becoming obese, there’s more and more insulin resistance and therefore more Type 2 diabetes,” he said.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, Type 2 diabetes is found more commonly in middle-aged people who are overweight or obese.
Between 1985 and 2011, obesity rates in Canada have tripled. The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) projects that about 21 per cent of Canadian adults will be obese by 2019.
However, Shivon Sanduja, a registered dietician at Taddle Creek Family Health Teams, said it’s a common myth that people with diabetes have an unhealthy diet.
“Even if you have a great diet or are physically active, you can still have pretty high blood sugars that need to be managed with medications or insulin,” she said.
Still, Sanduja emphasizes that a healthy diet, active lifestyle and regular blood sugar checkups are the best measures for not only preventing diabetes, but treating it as well.
“People can live a long life with diabetes when it’s well-managed,” she said. “That’s sort of our cure for right now.”
CDAR has been bringing diabetes awareness to campus in the form of speaker events and bake sales for people with diabetes. Gurneet Dhami, external vice-president of the student group, says these events help to build a community in Ryerson that addresses their needs.
“It’s important to have a community, because as an individual you might feel isolated and feel like you’re the only one that has it. It’s important to have support and to know that you’re not the only one going through it,” said Dhami. “Even in my family, (there are) a couple of relatives that have diabetes and sometimes they’re kind of hesitant. Just tell someone or talk about it. You don’t have to shy away from the topic.”