Aboriginal Diabetes conference doesn’t ‘sugarcoat’ problem

By Teena Monteleone and Jeff Labine
May 17, 2017 - 5:00pm Updated: May 18, 2017 - 6:21am
Florence Highway, a volunteer with Diabetes Canada, said the primary goal of the gathering was education.
Florence Highway, a volunteer with Diabetes Canada, said the primary goal of the gathering was education. Jeff Labine/paNOW Staff

There are over 100,000 people living with diabetes in Saskatchewan today, but Diabetes Canada estimates that number climbs to 175,000 when you add the number of people living with pre-diabetes. 

“In First Nations populations, the prevelance is three to five times greater,” Brie Hnetka, Diabetes Canada Regional Director for Saskatchewan, said. “So, they say now 80 per cent of children born today on reserve will get diabetes in their lifetime….so this is a huge, huge problem."

Hnetka said Indigenous people are genetically predisposed to diabetes but there are a number of other factors that increase the risk. Access to healthy food and being in a remote community are some of them. 

“It is extremely expensive to buy healthy food in northern communities. Residents also have to ensure it is safe to do physical activities outside, particularly in a remote community,” Hnetka said.

While Hnetka admits it is difficult to bend the curve on the rising cases of diabetes in Saskatchewan, education could help prevent some of the complications that come with it.

More than 350 people attended the 14th Annual Aboriginal Gathering in Prince Albert.  The unique event features programming geared towards the Aboriginal and Métis populations in the province.

Florence Highway, a diabetic and volunteer with Diabetes Canada, said the goal is to educate and encourage others to take control of their disease.

“We want them to know what services are out there for them….but we also want them to know how to manage a healthy lifestyle,” she said. Highway explained volunteers travel across the province telling youth, in particular, that they have a choice to live a health lifestyle.

“We show them the sugar content of things like pop and tell them they can make a choice to have it, but it has to be in moderation,” Highway said.

Focus is also given to prenatal care because Highway said many pregnant women don’t understand that an unborn fetus can also become diabetic.

The gathering featured a number of guest speakers and topics, including how to manage living with diabetes. Hnetka said it is important for everyone, despite their cultural background, to know whether they are at risk and what the symptoms are to avoid complications.

“One of the leading causes of heart attacks, strokes, blindness and amputation is diabetes. So, one of our goals is to help people manage their diabetes better so we can reduce these complications,” Hnetka said.

“You can live a really healthy lifestyle with diabetes. It isn’t a death sentence….but it is a lot of work to manage it.”

 

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