Nunavummiut walk, run and ride for their health
People combat diabetes with walks, runs and rides through northern communities
BAKER LAKE — For the first time, Olivia Ullyot walked the walk. Others ran the run.
The 21-year-old Baker Lake woman took part in her first-ever Run for Diabetes June 21, an annual event held in this and many other northern communities.
“I always heard about these walks in the South, but hearing about this happening in my hometown is nice,” Ullyot said, who brought along her boyfriend, her dog and her friends.
The event, sponsored by the North West Co., isn’t a fundraiser — the company donates to the Canadian Diabetes Foundation throughout the year. The run was created to raise awareness.
For Ullyot, this event is personal — she’s been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was just four years old.
“Most people don’t know until I tell them. My biggest challenges is just staying healthy, because there are so many factors that can change my blood sugar levels,” Ullyot said, pointing to her bag, where she’s carrying some snacks and a blood testing meter, in case she needs to check her sugar levels.
Another challenge for diabetics in Nunavut is not having a diabetes educator in the community, Ullyot said — the closest is in Winnipeg, which means her appointments are few and far between.
One of Ullyot’s friends, Kirsten Tootoo, came out to participate in the June 21 walk to show support.
“My grandfather, who passed away last December, lived with diabetes,” Tootoo said. “My brother ran for him last year, so I thought I would come this time.”
Although Inuit have for many years enjoyed a much lower rate of diabetes than other Canadians, that has begun to change in recent years.
While the most recent statistics show that only 2.6 per cent of Nunavummiut have diabetes — and about 4.4 per cent of Nunavimmiut — Health Canada says rates of diabetes are expected to rise significantly in the future.
That’s due to risk factors like obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating, along with studies that have shown links between diabetes and the pollutants found in a traditional Inuit diet.
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 untreated, diabetes can lead to heart attacks, nerve damage, kidney disease and blindness.
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.
Anyone can get diabetes, but people who are over the age of 40, overweight and physically inactive are more at risk of developing type 2.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes can include 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 display no symptoms.
The Government of Nunavut promotes a more healthy diet to prevent diabetes through its Nunavut Food Guide.
Eating fruits and vegetables seems to have a preventive effect, as does exercise and the regular consumption of seal meat.