Aboriginal people two to five times more likely to have diabetes
Mobile diabetes initiative visits MNA office to give free screenings
Pricking fingers and taking blood pressure readings, the Mobile Diabetes Screening Initiative (MDSi) team was at the Métis Nation Region 1 office in Lac La Biche last Wednesday and Thursday.
The MDSi team was giving free diabetes screeing tests to the community. The MDSi is based out of University of Alberta, and their field team travels around the province to help address an unsettling trend — First Nations and Métis people are two to five times more likely to get Type II diabetes than the average Canadian.
There isn’t one single, clear reason behind this trend, but several lifestyle changes are suspect — different food, less exercise and more stress are all contributing to the risk of getting diabetes.
‘WHITE’ DIET PLAYS A BIG ROLE
The first suspected reason is a quick change in diet, says Andrea Perrett, one of the members of the MDSi.
“When we think of the traditional ‘white diet’ it’s white bread, white flour and white sugar,” Perrett said.
“[Europeans] developed that diet over thousands of years, giving them time to adjust.”
She pointed out that colonization caused First Nations people to change their diet fairly quickly, shifting away from tradition food like whole grains and wild meat.
Less physical activity is another result of the shift in lifestyle — there is a lot less exercise since First Nations people aren’t hunting as much as their ancestors traditionally did.
The third suspected reason is long-term stress First Nations and Métis communities have had to historically deal with, says Adrian Jacobs, the community liaison with the MDSi.
“Issues like (lack of rights) and residential schools and all the losses people experienced are some of the underlying factors contributing to stress,” Jacobs said. “That was detrimental to people’s sense of empowerment and that’s detrimental to people’s health.”
There are also on-going issues like poverty and chronic unemployment that also contribute to stress, which in turn contributes to risk of diabetes, Perrett said.
RAISING AWARENESS OF PROBLEM
The MDSi may not be able to fix all of these issues, but the team works hard to raise awareness of diabetes and factors that contribute to the risk fo the disease. They visit Métis settlements and remote communities in the province, giving free screening tests and information on how to prevent the disease.
The idea is to empower communities with knowledge to be able to deal with the problems themselves, Perrett said.
“If the movement comes from within the community, the success is more stable,” she said.
WOULD LOVE TO “WORK THEMSELVES OUT OF JOB”
They’ve also been collecting more data about how many First Nations and Métis people do have the disease.
They’ve been working for nine years, and will be applying for more funding next year.
But Perret says she would want the success of the project to bring diabetes, and in turn, the project to an end.
“We would love to work ourselves out of a job,” she said.
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