What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when you are unable to produce enough of the hormone insulin, or because your cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. Symptoms of this metabolic condition include: frequent urination, increased thirst, and hunger.

Diabetes Awareness Month is an international initiative focusing on prevention, living with diabetes and technological advances that are making coping easier.

An estimated one million Canadians live with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. During Diabetes Awareness Month, people are urged to get their sugar levels checked

Diabetes Awareness Month stresses the importance of knowing the risk factors of diabetes.

This year’s campaign slogan is “Don’t Be Risky”. During November, the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) is encouraging Canadians to visit the DontBeRisky.ca website. There they can fill out a CANRISK test to discover their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetic conditions.

Diabetes Prevalence

There are three types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes—previously referred to as "insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus"—is caused by the body's failure to produce insulin. It results from the sudden onset of an auto-immune process. Those with type 1 diabetes need insulin therapy to survive. Children with juvenile diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes—previously referred to as “non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus”— is the result of insulin resistance. In this condition, cells fail to use insulin properly. It may be combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. Type 2 diabetes can go unnoticed and undiagnosed for a long time. The danger is that, undetected, type 2 diabetes can be damaging the body.

The third type of diabetes is gestational diabetes. It occurs when expectant mothers develop a high blood glucose level. Gestational diabetes can pose serious risks to the mothers and infants. If left untreated, it can increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

In 2013, it was estimated that nearly 382 million people suffered from diabetes. This is 8.3% of the world population. Those in North America and the Caribbean have the highest prevalence of 11%. In Canada 6.8% of the population has diagnosed type 1 or 2 diabetes.

Health Impact of Diabetes

Diabetes has a high related risk of other diseases:

  • People with diabetes are over three times more likely to be hospitalized with heart disease
  • They are twelve times more likely to be hospitalized with end-stage renal disease
  • People with diabetes are almost 20 times more likely to be hospitalized with non-traumatic lower limb amputations
  • 36.5% of Canadian adults with diabetes reported having hypertension, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, mood disorder, and/or arthritis
  • In every age group, people with diabetes had mortality rates at least two times higher than those without diabetes
  • 40% of those with diabetes rate their health as “poor”

Medical Costs of Diabetes

  • People with diabetes in North America see a physician over twice as often
  • They are three times more likely to be hospitalized and hospital visits are longer
  • In Canada alone rates of diabetes have almost doubled in the last decade. Diabetes cost Canadian taxpayers $11.7 billion in 2010. This figure will rise to $20 billion by 2020

Reducing the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

While there are many factors which contribute to type 2 diabetes, age, obesity, physical inactivity, certain ethnicities, and a family history of diabetes are important risk factors.

Sedentary lifestyle is a cause of type 2 diabetes. People who are active are less likely to be obese. Proper diet, exercise and limiting calories ingested can make inroads on obesity. Obese adults are four times more likely to get type 2 diabetes. Physical activity prevents and helps in the management of diabetes. Half of Canadians aged 12 years and older admit to being physically inactive. As a society we need to get up and get moving at least 30 minutes a day.

Adopting a diet rich in raw, organic fruits and vegetables will aid in weight loss. More than half of Canadians aged 12 years and older eat less than five servings of vegetables and fruit a day. An unhealthy diet is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Quit smoking. Smoking carries with it an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. While smoking has declined in Canada over the last several years, over 15 of Canadians still smoked in 2010.

Good role models of proper diet and exercise for children are important. In 2009, there were over 3,000 new cases of type 1 and 2 diabetes among Canadian children and youth aged one to 19 years. 26,000 children and youth in Canada have diabetes.

Building Awareness

How can we build awareness of the dangers of diabetes?

Diabetes rates have almost doubled in the last decade. With an estimated cost of $20 billion by 2020, Canadian citizens need to become actively involved in the prevention of diabetes. Complications of diabetes account for 80% of the costs related to diabetes. If we could prevent or delay the onset of diabetes, significant costs would be avoided.

Over half of type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed with better diet and more exercise.

Managed properly, diabetes does not mean higher mortality rate or poorer health. So a campaign to encourage self-management strategies can have a positive effect on health and healthcare costs. If we as a society do not make people aware of what can be done to avoid and to treat diabetes, our healthcare costs and impact on the health of the population are both at risk.

British Columbia has initiated an “Act Now” campaign which focuses on healthy eating, exercise, and testing for high blood sugar. If local communities, municipal and provincial governments follow this lead it will go a long way toward prevention, early detection, and self-management of diabetes.