Prevention needs to play a bigger role

By Marie Burke
Windspeaker Staff Writer

Prevention is a key factor for First Nations in battling diabetes. At a time when First Nations people are five times more at risk than the general population to get the disease, awareness is important. The National Aboriginal Diabetes Association and the different Aboriginal Diabetes Wellness programs in each province believe prevention is the key.

"The comment we frequently hear is, 'I'm too old to be jumping around,'" said Linda Brazeau, manager of the National Aboriginal Diabetes Association. Brazeau has worked with the group Strategies for Undermining Glucose in Aboriginal Races that started in Manitoba in the early 1980s. The group saw a need in the Aboriginal communities for more awareness about diabetes.
The exercise factor in prevention does not need to be difficult. In terms of exercise it can be as simple as walking 30 minutes a day to prevent or improve a diabetic condition. Brazeau believes that a long time ago, Aboriginal people used to walk everywhere. They were healthier, stronger. People don't realize that even when you go shopping or take children out for a walk that it's exercise.

To Aboriginal people, family is a big thing and if a person with diabetes doesn't want to do it for themselves, then consider the family.

"The main risk factors for getting diabetes is obesity, the type of diet, and activity level of each individual," said Kathleen Cardinal, diabetes outreach worker at the Aboriginal Wellness Program in Edmonton.

Food plays a very important part in life. Being able to eat the food that could help in preventing diabetes seems simple. Yet diet is an outwhelming concern among health caregivers who deal with diabetes and prevention. The factors that affect eating habits with First Nations stem from their history. First Nations people were very active people. Their survival depended on it.

However, today, most Aboriginal people do not need to fish, hunt or trap to survive. The metabolism and make up of Aboriginal people has not changed, but their lifestyle has.

The changes that have happened to the traditional lifestyle of Aboriginal people can help them understand why they are more prone to diabetes.

We also need to understand that it is a disease that can be managed and prevented, said Cardinal. When people are under stress with life situations, food can become a source of comfort. Eating improperly and lack of exercise can lead to health complications such as diabetes.

Cardinal also noted that the different stress levels of each individual is a contributing factor in health. If a person is worrisome and fearful, it greatly their ability to cope with a disease like diabetes.