Diabetes Awareness Month 2019



A message from Jeff Reading, PhD,

FNHA Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul's Hospital

Diabetes and the Heart: making the connection and working toward prevention

This month is Diabetes Awareness Month, so it's a good time to talk about the connection between diabetes and heart disease. Many people are not aware of the connection between diabetes and heart health, but there certainly is one. In fact, having diabetes means you are more likely to develop heart disease. This is because some of the same things are associated with the development and progression of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes – for example, obesity and smoking commercial tobacco. 

The good news is there are ways you can reduce health risks, even if you do have heart disease and diabetes.

Diabetes and First Nations in BC

One of the many devastating effects of colonialism on First Nations people is a higher rate of disease, including diabetes. In fact, the current state of Indigenous health in Canada is a direct result of Canadian government policies and systems, including residential schools. The shifts from a traditional to a “western" diet and from an active to a more sedentary lifestyle are some of the effects of colonialism that contribute to higher obesity and diabetes rates among First Nation people compared to other Canadians. Combined with the smoking of commercial tobacco, these rates are a major public health concern.

Successful program interventions

Heart health – and its connection to diabetes prevention – is something we can foster at all life stages, and for all people, including our children. This all-life-stages perspective means improving maternal, infant, childhood and adolescent health with planned interventions that optimize healthy growth and development. For example, programs to reduce smoking rates and to promote good nutrition among mothers reduce the risk of both adolescent smoking and childhood obesity, and protect against diabetes in pregnancy as well as diabetes later in life.   ​

Innovative and effective approaches toward diabetes prevention and treatment programs have been initiated in some First Nations communities. Seeing diabetes through a life stage perspective is promising because it provides communities and caregivers with the tools to integrate medical, cultural, and social knowledge in meaningful ways; this fusion is necessary to satisfy treatment and align with cultural requirements of First Nations health care. Life stage-tailored programs are well-suited to First Nations because they attempt to understand health in a way that takes into account the deeply rooted social disparities that have been present in some communities for generations. Such programs are also consistent with First Nations concepts of well-being encompassing the physical, mental, emotional, environmental and spiritual.

What we can do as individuals to reduce preventable risk factors

A wellness perspective is about both prevention and health promotion. The recommendations for prevention are straightforward: get regular health checks, and try to make better lifestyle choices to include active living, and better diet choices to reach or maintain a healthy weight. If you smoke commercial tobacco, then consider quitting or reducing smoking. In other words, follow the FNHA's four wellness streams: 1) Eat Healthy, 2) Be Active, 3) Nurture Spirit, and 4) Respect Tobacco.

Start today! Make that appointment with your health care provider and use their advice to begin a new, healthier you!

All my relations,

Jeff Reading MSc PhD FCAHS

British Columbia First Nations Health Authority Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul's Hospital, and support by Bank of Montreal, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Providence Health Research Foundation.

Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University


​​​What is Diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the body becomes unable to properly produce or use insulin, a hormone that controls sugar in the bloodstream. If not properly treated, diabetes can result in serious complications.

There are two types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes is when your body can't make enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar). 

Type 2 Diabetes is when your body doesn't use insulin well and is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels.

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