Nunavut diabetes rate soars
"Sukaqaluartuq" prevalence more than doubled between 2003 and 2008
If you’re an Inuk living in Nunavut or Nunavik, you may not stop to think about diabetes on Nov. 14, World Diabetes Day.
That’s because there are still relatively few Inuit among the more than nine million Canadians living with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
But that situation is changing.
Diabetes has been called a ticking “time bomb” in the Arctic.
The persistent organic pollutants found in the meat and blubber of marine mammals, like pilot whales, beluga and narwhal, are linked to the development of diabetes, says Philippe Grandjean from the University of Southern Denmark and the Harvard School of Public Health.
Grandjean’s study, detailed in a recent edition of Epidemiology, found that elderly residents of the Arctic Faroe Islands, who have had a life-long diet high in pilot whale meat and blubber, run a much higher risk of developing diabetes, “in some cases more clearly in women.”
Their diet included traditional foods, like pilot whale meat and blubber, and seabirds such as fulmar and puffin.
About 25 per cent of the 700 elderly people in the study had type 2 diabetes.
However, many didn’t know they had diabetes before they were tested for the study.
So, throughout the Arctic many more people may have diabetes than now estimated, Grandjean told Nunatsiaq News in an interview last May.
“It’s probably because they are untested,” he said.
The numbers of people with diabetes is likely to grow among Arctic adults born between the 1950s and 1970s, who were exposed to more pollution in their traditional diet, he said.
Research indicates that diabetes has already increased in Canada’s Inuit communities.
According to the 1991 aboriginal peoples survey, Inuit had a much lower rate of diabetes, only 1.9 per cent, than the rate for the rest of the Canadian population.
In 2008, prevalence of diabetes in Nunavut still stood at 2.5 per cent, that is, at about two people out of every 100 residents.
That was less than half the rate in the rest of Canada, where 5.8 per cent of the population or nearly six in 100 people have diabetes.
In Canada, that rate rose 30 per cent between 2003 and 2008.
But, in Nunavut, there was a much larger jump: the rate of diabetes increased by 110 per cent during the same time period, said the 2011 Report on Nunavut Comparable Health Indicators.
In Nunavik, the diabetes rate now stands even higher.
The 2004 Qanuippitaa study in Nunavik found that about five in 100 Nunavimmiut suffer from diabetes, with overweight women at greatest risk.
In Uummannaq, Greenland, more than 14 in 100 residents have diabetes, while in Nuuk, the capital, eight per cent have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Inuit know diabetes as “timi siuraujaartuqaluartuq” or “sukaqaluartuq,” which means “too much sugar within the body.”
Diabetes develops when the body can’t process sugars properly, leading to high levels of sugar in the blood. Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to heart attacks, nerve damage, kidney disease and blindness.
Eating fruits and vegetables seems to have a preventive effect, as does exercise and the regular consumption of seal meat.
So the Government of Nunavut has promoted a more healthy diet, through such measures as its Nunavut food guide and its “drop the pop” campaign.
Treatment for diabetes usually involves a combination of changes to diet and medication, such as insulin, a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the blood. (in fact, World Diabetes Day is celebrated on Nov. 14 to honour the birthday of its co-discoverer, Sir Frederick Banting).
There are three main types of diabetes, notes the Canadian Diabetes Association on its website.
Type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed in children and adolescents, occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. Approximately 10 per cent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
The remaining 90 per cent have type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body does not effectively use the insulin that is produced. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adulthood, although increasing numbers of children in high-risk populations are being diagnosed.
A third type of diabetes, gestational diabetes, is a temporary condition that occurs during pregnancy. It affects approximately to two to four per cent of all pregnancies and involves an increased risk of developing diabetes for both mother and child.
Prediabetes refers to a condition where a person’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
If you are aged 40 or older, you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes and should be tested at least every three years.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes include the following: unusual thirst, frequent urination, weight change (gain or loss), extreme fatigue or lack of energy, blurred vision, frequent or recurring infections, cuts and bruises that are slow to heal, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, or trouble getting or maintaining an erection.
But many people who have type 2 diabetes may display no symptoms.
On Nov. 14, Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the federal health minister, launched the Canadian Diabetes Risk Questionnaire, known as CANRISK, to inform Canadians about their risks of developing type 2 diabetes.
You can consult that questionnaire at http://bit.ly/tR1Ary.