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Diabetes prevention strategies should be targeted at pregnant women, children and young adults among Canada's First Nations, the researchers say.

First Nations women in their prime reproductive years are hit disproportionately by diabetes, a new study finds.

The incidence of Type 2 diabetes was more than four times higher in First Nations women compared with non-First Nations women and more than 2.5 times higher compared with non-First Nations men, says a study of cases in Saskatchewan published in Monday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

"Diabetes is a disease of young First Nations adults with a marked predilection for women; in contrast, diabetes is a disease of aging non-First Nations adults that is more common in men," Dr. Roland Dyck of Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and his coauthors wrote.

The researchers looked at 8,275 First Nations and 82,306 non-First Nations cases in Saskatchewan from 1980 to 2005.

A tuberculosis survey of 1,500 First Nations people in 1937, for example, did not detect diabetes. By 1990, almost 10 per cent of the province's native people had diabetes, and by 2006, 20 per cent did.

The team proposed several reasons for the high rate in women:

  • A loss of traditional lifestyles.
  • Higher rates of being overweight and obese in First Nations women.
  • High rates of gestational diabetes, which can be a predictor of Type 2 diabetes in some mothers and their children.

New cases of diabetes among First Nations people also peaked at ages 40 to 49, compared with age 70 or older among non-First Nations people, the researchers found.

"What is clear is that the rapid appearance of Type 2 diabetes particularly among First Nations people and other indigenous and developing populations has been precipitated by environmental rather than genetic factors," the researchers said.

The trend will likely continue since children and teenagers make up almost half of First Nations. The researchers urged that prevention strategies among Canada's aboriginal people be targeted at pregnant women, children and young adults to help reduce the rates of diabetes.