It’s an issue for many in this province, and moving forward, it will be on Central Health’s radar in a big way.
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador already has the highest rate of type-two diabetes in the country. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, one-third of the province’s population could be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2020. And, according to Central Health statistics, the area encompassed by the health authority has the highest instance of the disease in the province – making central Newfoundland the most diabetic area in the country.
Central Health had its annual general meeting in Grand Falls-Windsor last week, and CEO Karen McGrath addressed high diabetes rates by outlining some programs available for people suffering from the disease.
“We have a long way to go when it comes to prevention initiatives,” she said.
In 2011 and 2012, McGrath said Central Health had rolled out free diabetic foot clinics throughout the region to screen for loss of sensation and neuropathy – both symptoms of the disease. She said the ‘Feet First’ initiative also includes foot care education and healthy living information.
“This is a very important service given the rates of diabetes in the region,” she said.
Another new program is focused on self-management of chronic diseases including diabetes.
“(The ‘Improving Health My Way’ program) is peer driven, and it’s (facilitated by) someone who has a condition, educating someone who also has a condition,” she said.
The free program is offered over a six-week period; McGrath said 65 participants in the region have successfully completed the program.
Jake Reid, Atlantic director of government relations and advocacy with the Canadian Diabetes Association, said his association also offers services in communities throughout Atlantic Canada to help people living with diabetes. These programs can be accessed through contacting local hospitals, clinics, and association offices.
Unfortunately, he said, free programs only go so far, and nearly 60 per cent of people living with the disease can’t afford to self manage.
“Not everything is covered, and on average, it costs around $300 a month to have diabetes,” Ried said. “People have to make really important decisions in their own budget about what they can and can’t do, and unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t able to choose to take care of their diabetes.”
This problem is magnified by the fact that people with lower income – of which there are more of in Atlantic Canada than anywhere else in the country – are at a higher risk of developing diabetes in the first place.
According to Reid, unmanaged diabetes can lead to a slew of complications, from blindness to loss of limbs, and even death.
“We do talk to government frequently. We give advice on what we think needs to happen, and what we’d like to see change.” said Reid. “We really want it to be a partnership in taking care of people with diabetes.”
Reid said the Diabetes Association is making progress, but the best thing any individual can do is take care of themselves.
Reid said high rates of obesity, coupled with an aging population in central Newfoundland are significant contributing factors to this epidemic.
According to statistics from the Public Health Agency of Canada, over 30 per cent of central Newfoundlanders are obese.
Though you can develop type-two diabetes at any age, people most at risk are older individuals who are overweight and carry most of that weight around their stomach. Reid also said people with certain ethnic backgrounds are more at risk.
“There are lots of complications with unmanaged diabetes,” said Reid. “One quarter of people that have the (disease) will pass away from a heart related event. We’re seeing lots of people in the hospital system and in long-term care situations using bed space that have diabetes, and that can cost the system a lot and it can cost people their quality of life.”
Fortunately, Reid said, pre-diabetics can make lifestyle changes that will prevent them from ever developing the disease, and people who are living with diabetes can manage the illness and live a normal, healthy life.
“You can reverse the risks if you have pre-diabetes, you can lose that extra weight, for example,” he said. “You’re still going to be at a certain risk if it’s an age thing, or if you have it in your family, but there are things you can do for yourself.”
Those things, Reid said, include both a healthy diet and regular exercise – even people who have already developed diabetes can significantly decrease symptoms by living a healthy lifestyle.
For more information on diabetes, risk factors, and other resources, visit www.diabetes.ca.