A new study in the Yukon hopes to develop a tool to screen for diabetes among younger aboriginal people.

The study, a joint program between the federal, Yukon and Kwanlin Dun governments, is geared toward aboriginal people between the ages of 20 to 39.

Health officials say an estimated 10 per cent of Canadian aboriginal people have diabetes — and don't know it.

Many more have what's called 'pre-diabetes', which is higher than normal blood sugar levels.

Project coordinator Gail Peekeekoot says identifying "pre-diabetes" can make a big difference.

Ashley Russell

Ashley Russell, 25, says being tested for diabetes makes sense, now that processed sugars are everywhere.

"That's when people are having sugar levels or glucose levels in their blood that are higher than most peoples but not yet to that place of having a diagnosis of diabetes,” Peekeekoot says. “We know that 50 per cent of the people with pre-diabetes will move onto diabetes unless they take steps to change things."

A screening program at Kwanlin Dun hopes to capture aboriginal people between the ages of 20 to 39.

Once the screening tool has gathered a large enough sample, officials can assess its accuracy.

Ashley Russell, 25, says being tested for diabetes makes sense.

“We're used to more natural sugars, from berries and things that we harvest right from the land,” she says, recalling that life was very different for First Nations people not so long ago. “For my grandma, having something like a candy was like once every six months… nowadays it's so easily accessible that it's everywhere.”

How can you tell if you’re at risk?

Indicators include whether you exercise regularly, how often you eat fruit and vegetables, and your waist measurement.

“We can't do anything about our heritage, we can't do anything about our age, but there's a lot we can do about our activity levels and healthier eating,” Peekeekoot says.

People who take part in the study will get a $50 gift certificate to The Real Canadian Superstore. 

The screening tests will also take place in Mayo, Teslin, Carmacks and Dawson City.