While some forms of diabetes are genetic, some are preventable – and Andrea Kwasnicki believes that prevention could be easier than we think.
“Diabetes is an epidemic in Canada and, here in Manitoba, diabetes affects more than 116,000 people – a figure expected to increase to 156,000 by 2024,” Kwasnicki, regional director of the Canadian Diabetes Association for Manitoba and Nunavut, says in an email to The Uniter.
November is diabetes awareness month. The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) and a University of Winnipeg (U of W) team are working toward increasing knowledge and prevention practises through experiential learning.
It’s a common disease and one that needs to be publicized, she says.
In 2013, a U of W team created an awareness and education program about juvenile diabetes for inner-city and aboriginal youth in Winnipeg. They found that these groups are more prone to diabetes due to the regularity of diabetes in their families, as well as the effects of poverty (such as lack of access to healthy food and not enough access to play space to maintain an active life).
From talking to the students about diabetes in their lives, the main misconceptions the team hears are that there is nothing youth can do to prevent diabetes in their future, and that if there was, it would be expensive and time consuming. The program continues to thrive and impact student lifestyles, with lessons on label reading, portion size and simple recipe preparation.
At the start of the program in 2013, youth aged 10 to 18 would meet once a week for eight weeks at the U of W Recplex. One half of each session would be dedicated to physical activity and the other to nutritional education and tasting. Through stories and comments from the students, the team found that the program was successful in teaching students to learn to challenge their past misconceptions.
“It is common in the inner-city and aboriginal community to know people with diabetes, but not prevention tactics… and this (Type 2) is a very preventable disease,” Dr. Nathan D. Hall, the former director of the U of W team studying inner-city diabetes, says.
Hall still works in the Faculty of Education and Gupta Faculty of Kinesiology, but has since passed the lead on the diabetes program over to Colette Hansen who works for the main sponsor Sun Life Financial and has a degree in Human Nutrition.
The U of W program and CDA share ways to prevent diabetes and show it’s not extremely time consuming, but it requires lifestyle changes. Tweaking the two major influencers of Type 2 diabetes, nutrition and physical activity, have the biggest impact in reducing the risk of getting the disease.
Believing that diabetes only affects your food and exercise undermines the difficulties diabetes can add to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.The CDA’s goals for diabetes awareness month are to show healthier choices to youth and to encourage people to overcome convenient, yet unhealthy habits.
“When it comes to diabetes, knowledge is the best prevention and management,” Kwasnicki says.