National Diabetes Month 2019: Let’s Talk About Living Well with Diabetes



A message from FNHA Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shannon McDonald

Recently the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study released its findings and urged decision-makers to “address systemic problems related to food," and “support sustainable and healthy lifestyles."

The recommendations are especially important for Indigenous people in Canada, who face higher rates of diabetes than non-Indigenous people.

While decision makers at a systems level can make big changes to impact wellness, we as Indigenous people can make changes on the ground where we live, work, play and eat to have healthier lifestyles.

Living well with diabetes

Diabetes, a chronic disease that many people live with, has not always been a health issue for First Nations in BC. Historically, healthy traditional diets and active lifestyles sustained generations over thousands of years and prevented many chronic diseases. The drastic lifestyle and dietary changes resulting from colonialism, such as restrictions and barriers to hunting and the dangers of pollution to shellfish harvesting, have contributed to more cases of diabetes among First Nations peoples.

Today, approximately one in 10 First Nations people in BC have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the FNHA's latest Regional Health Survey and health system utilization data. Fortunately, diabetes can be prevented or managed by eating a healthy diet, being physically active, getting screened, taking medicines (if prescribed), maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping health care appointments can go a long way toward helping us  stay on track.

First Nations communities in BC are building on their traditional knowledge and strengths to support healthy lifestyles as a way of managing and preventing diabetes today and for future generations. Great examples of knowledge transfer with foods include when the members of Nuchatlaht distribute salmon and halibut every August, or the Na'ʔk'ʷulamən Garden being led by members of the Westbank First Nation.  

Creating a wellness plan

Whether or not you live with diabetes or other chronic illnesses, creating and following a wellness plan will support a healthier lifestyle.

A wellness plan for anyone should include regular exercise. A goal of at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily is the recommendation for adults, with a 60-minute goal for children and youth. For tips on how to get started, see our Being Active page.

A wellness plan should also include a healthy diet. Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have had a close relationship with traditional foods that are harvested from the land. The foods harvested by First Nations include the eulachon, deer, moose, seaweed, roots, and berries, to name a few. These foods are rich in nutrients that can help maintain a healthy diet. For other tips on eating well, see our Eating Healthy page.

It IS possible to live well with diabetes! I follow these guidelines myself, and encourage you to do the same.

In wellness,

Dr. Shannon McDonald

Deputy Chief Medical Officer


Check out this new resource! “N.A.M.E. the Four Pillars of Diabetes Management": Nutrition, Activity, Medication and Emotions are four pillars of diabetes management and prevention. Download this fact sheet for wellness tips and information​.


Learn more about getting screened for diabetes here. Learn more about First Nations Traditional Foods here.

In BC, call 8-1-1 (or 7-1-1 for deaf and hard of hearing) to speak with a health service navigator. The health service navigator can connect you with a registered nurse or a registered dietitian or qualified exercise professional.

​​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.​

Living Well with Chronic Disease.

We encourage all Indigenous people across BC to talk to your Primary Care Practitioner about your health and wellness and whether Diabetes screening is right for you.


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