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Michael Cloutier, president and CEO of the Canadian Diabetes Association, says the health of Albertans and the province's prosperity are threatened by diabetes. ((CBC))

Alberta could see a 67 per cent increase in the number of diabetes cases by 2020, the highest such increase in the country, the Canadian Diabetes Association warned Wednesday.

"The numbers are staggering," said the association's president and CEO, Michael Cloutier, at a news conference in Edmonton.

"If left unchecked, diabetes not only threatens the life of many [Albertans] … but also the sustainability of the health-care system and the future economic prosperity of this province."

About 217,000 people or 5.8 per cent of the population are currently living with diabetes in Alberta. In 10 years, the number of diagnosed cases is estimated to be 363,000 or 8.6 per cent of the population, an increase of 67 per cent.

The direct and indirect costs of the disease, which is estimated to currently cost Alberta $1.1 billion a year, will jump 42 per cent to $1.6 billion a year by 2020, if no action is taken, Cloutier said.

The association is calling on the province to focus on prevention and increase access to diabetes medications, devices and supplies, to prevent or delay complications that make up 80 per cent of the costs associated with treating the disease.

Unlike other Canadian provinces, the Alberta government only offers subsidies for diabetic supplies to seniors and low-income families.

Prevention key, expert says

Longtime diabetic Barb Warwrinchuk says the cost of medication runs about $300 a month.

"For someone who doesn't have a medical plan, I don't understand sometimes how they can afford to be a diabetic," she said.

Dr. David Lau, a diabetes specialist at the University of Calgary, says the projected jump in cases can be attributed to an aging population and the number of aboriginal people in the province.

The latter group is considered vulnerable for developing Type 2 diabetes because of a move away from traditional lifestyles.

"The aboriginal peoples have adopted the not so healthy western lifestyle and importantly, we've engineered physical activity out of our daily lives," he said.

Lau, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, said prevention is key.

"Prevention is certainly a lot cheaper than managing the disease when the person has it," he said.

Alberta Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky admitted the province could do more to prevent diabetes.

"Diabetes is all about controlling the thing and diagnosing it early and helping people though difficult circumstances, obviously," he said.

Zwozdesky said the province is sponsoring a forum to discuss chronic disease in Alberta and is also discussing new research into the disease.