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Conference aims to prevent native diabetes 'pandemic'

From CBC news: http://www.cbc.ca/story/science/national/2006/02/13/diabetes060213.html

A conference in Winnipeg is looking for ideas to stem the growing tide of diabetes among Canada's aboriginal community.

Getting fresh, affordable food to remote communities can be difficult.

Diabetes among aboriginal people was virtually unheard of in the 1940s, but today the risk of Type 2 diabetes among aboriginal populations is estimated at three to five times higher than for non-natives, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.

The National Aboriginal Diabetes Association estimates Manitoba could see the number of cases of diabetes triple over the next 20 years in what aboriginal leaders and health professionals are calling a "pandemic."

"Pandemic means that a disease is throughout the entire country," said Alex McComber, one of the conference chairs, who sits on the board of the National Aboriginal Diabetes Association. "If we talk about the phrase using Indian country, it's there, it's everywhere."

Conference delegates say diet, lack of exercise, genetics and stress contribute to the problem, as does lack of access to fresh food in aboriginal communities, especially in the North.

"It's horrendous to eat healthy in the northern communities if you are relying on one store to provide all the food," said McComber, who has helped to teach young Mohawk students about proper diet and exercise at the Kahnawake First Nation near Montreal.

"We know that foods high in fat, high in sugar, high in salt, preservatives, etc., are very inexpensive to send, and they have a long shelf life," making them less expensive and more popular for people living on remote First Nations.

Dieticians, better food needed on reserves

Isabelle Shannacappo, from the Rolling River First Nation, near Riding Mountain, Man., says part of the solution is also personal responsibility.

"We cannot control the diabetes without the help of the people," said Shannacappo, who has had Type 2 diabetes for more than 20 years. "The people have to do their own prevention."

Shannacappo said governments should help provide financial support for dieticians on reserves to help people eat better. She also said, where possible, it's crucial to help get fresh, affordable food to remote communities.

Theresa Oswald, Manitoba's minister of healthy living, says the provincial government is working on programs to grow fresh produce in the North.

It's estimated almost 20 per cent of the First Nations population in Manitoba will contract diabetes.

First ministers meeting in Kelowna, B.C., last fall listed diabetes prevention as one of their top priorities in addressing aboriginal poverty and health care.

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